Sunday, September 11, 2022

Biden Administration Settles With Eco Groups, Blocks Oil Drilling Leases on Almost 60,000 Acres

An oil worker removes a thread cap from a piece of drill pipe on a drilling lease owned by Elevation Resources near Midland, Texas, on Feb. 12, 2019. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Biden Administration Settles With Eco Groups, Blocks Oil Drilling Leases on Almost 60,000 Acres

By Naveen Athrappully

The Biden administration has entered into a legal settlement with pro-environment groups, agreeing to block drilling for oil and gas on more than 58,000 acres of public land.

The lawsuit, filed in 2021, challenged the Trump administration’s decision to award 113 leases for fossil fuel exploration and drilling in 2019 and 2020. The case was filed by a coalition of conservation groups led by the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians just a few days before Biden took office.

According to the terms of the settlement, the government has decided to halt issuing any drilling permits in the 58,617 hectares of land covered by the 113 leases located in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will only issue a final decision on the future of leases and drilling permits once it completes an additional climate and environmental impact analysis.

The analysis will comply with the April 2021 order issued by Department of the Interior secretary Deb Haaland that insists on prioritizing climate change goals in such reviews.

In June, lawsuits filed by WildEarth Guardians and other groups forced the Biden administration to reconsider its decision to sell almost 4 million acres of land as part of oil and gas leases.

In 2020, the conservation groups won a lawsuit overturning the BLM’s decision to sell 145,000 acres of oil and gas leases in North Dakota and Montana.

The settlement comes weeks after Terry Doughty, U.S. district judge for the Western District of Louisiana, issued a permanent injunction against the Biden administration’s pause of new oil and gas leases in federal lands. The injunction applies to 13 U.S. states.

Decline in Drilling

The Biden administration has leased the least number of acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling than any other U.S. administration since World War II.

An analysis by The Wall Street Journal shows that the Interior Department has leased just 126,228 acres of land for drilling during the first 19 months of Biden’s presidency.

The last time a president leased so little land was during President Harry Truman’s tenure, when only 65,658 acres were leased between 1945 and 1946. Under the Trump administration, 4.4 million acres of land were leased in the first 19 months. For the Obama administration, it was 7.25 million acres.

“The president said he was going to stop leasing. And he’s been remarkably successful,” David Bernhardt, an energy lawyer and former interior secretary in the Trump administration, told the media outlet.

During his 2020 election campaign, Biden pledged in a debate with Bernie Sanders that he would support “no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore.”

When Biden took office on Jan. 20, 2021, Brent crude oil futures were trading at roughly $56 per barrel. As of Sept. 8, they’re trading at around $89 per barrel, an increase of more than 58 percent.

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