Biden halts oil and gas leases on US land, water for 60 days

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FILE – In this April 24, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. In the closing months of the Trump administration, energy companies stockpiled enough drilling permits for western public lands to keep pumping oil for years. That stands to undercut President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to block new drilling on public lands to address climate change. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration announced Thursday the suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters for 60 days as part a broad review of programs at the Department of Interior.

The move follows President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new drilling on federal lands and end the leasing of publicly owned energy reserves as part of his plan to address climate change.

The suspension went into effect immediately under an order signed Wednesday by Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega. The order did not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning oil and gas activity won’t come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated.

The order also blocks the approval of new mining plans, land sales or exchanges and the hiring of senior-level staff at the agency.

The administration’s announcement drew a quick backlash from the oil industry’s main trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, which said limiting access to publicly owned energy resources would mean more foreign oil imports, lost jobs and fewer tax revenues.

“Impeding American energy will only serve to hurt local communities and hamper America’s economic recovery,” petroleum institute President Mike Sommers said in a statement.

National Wildlife Federation Vice President Tracy Stone-Manning welcomed the move and said she expected Biden to make good on his campaign promises and end leasing altogether or at the least impose a long-term moratorium on any new issuances.

“The Biden administration has made a commitment to driving down carbon emissions. It makes sense starting with the land that we all own,” she said.

But the impact could be blunted by companies that stockpiled drilling permits in the closing months of the Trump administration.

Officials approved almost 1,400 permits on federal lands, primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico, over a three-month period that included the election. Those permits, which remain valid, will allow companies to continue drilling for years, potentially undercutting Biden’s climate agenda.

Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of annual U.S. production. Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons (500 metric tons) of greenhouse gases annually, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a 2018 study.

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