A consortium of oil and gas industry groups said Monday they had sued the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to reverse its decision this year to indefinitely freeze oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and 11 other energy industry trade groups called for an end to the moratorium, arguing that federal law requires regular lease sales.
“With the indefinite pause on federal oil and gas leasing, the department failed to satisfy procedural requirements and ignored congressional mandates for holding lease sales,” API Chief Legal Officer Paul Afonso said. “The law is clear: the department must hold lease sales and provide a justification for significant policy changes. They have yet to meet these requirements in the eight months since instituting a federal leasing pause, which continues to create uncertainty for U.S. natural gas and oil producers.”
At issue: Federal officials, under direction from President Biden, earlier this year suspended new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and on federal lands in individual states following lawsuits from conservation groups that argued drilling causes environmental problems for both people and wildlife. The action does not affect existing leases.
Biden has promised to combat climate change and to put the United States on a path to a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Shortly after taking office in January, Biden ordered the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review the entire oil and gas leasing program, tasking officials with determining if it benefits energy production at the expense of the environment and U.S. taxpayers.
BLM does not comment on active litigation but has maintained it has legal discretion to pause lease sales while conducting the program review ordered by Biden.
Earlier this year, 13 states banded together to file a lawsuit in a Louisiana federal court to force the resumption of the sales. Wyoming officials filed a separate but similar federal lawsuit. Those court challenges are ongoing.
In the new lawsuit, API and other trade groups argue that under the Administrative Procedure Act, an executive agency “is required to provide a record of support and explanation for a change in policy. An agency must also provide an opportunity for public comment when it implements new rules.”
The BLM, the trade groups added, “neglected to meet these requirements.”
The other co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the American Exploration & Production Council, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, International Association of Drilling Contractors, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, National Ocean Industries Association, the Montana Petroleum Association, the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, the Southeast Oil and Gas Association, the Utah Petroleum Association and the Western States Petroleum Association.
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