by Josh Siegel
The Biden administration is taking steps beginning this week toward restarting oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters as it complies with a ruling by a federal judge that found its pause on new auctions to be illegal.
In a filing on Tuesday to a Louisiana federal district court, the Interior Department said it will take procedural steps by the end of this month to prepare for a sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The sale could occur in late September or October. For onshore leases, Interior will post a list of available parcels for auction by the end of August, followed by a 30-day public comment period, likely leading to sales in early 2022.
Interior is acting after Louisiana and other Gulf states filed a motion to a federal district judge earlier this month to compel compliance with his ruling in June blocking Biden’s indefinite leasing pause.
Last week, the Biden administration announced it would appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, but it also committed to restart leasing during the appeals process.
Interior, however, has signaled it will take a restrictive approach to fossil fuel leasing going forward and that it will demand big changes in the future.
The agency said it would continue leasing in a way that takes into account the “deficiencies” within the government’s oil and gas leasing program, such as failing to account for climate change impacts sufficiently and not providing a fair return to taxpayers from energy development.
The Biden administration is in the process of completing an “interim” leasing report that was supposed to come out in early summer in which it is expected to propose reforms raising costs and imposing stricter regulation on fossil fuel development on public lands and waters.
Oil and gas industry groups called Interior’s resumption of leasing a positive step but called for the administration to release its delayed report.
“America’s oil and natural gas producers have been left in the dark by Interior for most of the year with no idea when leases would resume,” said Dan Naatz, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “Companies need to know if the administration plans to make substantial changes to regulations that govern development on public lands.”
President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January imposing an indefinite pause on issuing new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, a step toward fulfilling a major campaign promise to ban drilling on federal lands, part of his aggressive agenda to address climate change.
The pause was met with fierce backlash from the fossil fuel industry and states, including Democrat-led ones, that depend on oil and gas production revenue to fund their budgets.
Interior has not stopped companies from obtaining permits to drill and develop oil and gas on existing leases.