The Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has broad authority to postpone oil and gas lease sales to address environmental concerns, a federal judge ruled in tossing one of several lawsuits filed by industry groups and GOP-led states.

shale rigs

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District of Wyoming last Friday (Sept. 2) ruled that BLM had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws to postpone some 2021 lease sales (No. 2:21-cv-00013-SWS). Petitioners also lacked standing to challenge the sales, Skavdahl wrote.

After taking office early last year, President Biden issued an executive order (EO) directing the Department of the Interior to temporarily pause new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and offshore waters. BLM oversees the onshore lease sales. The pause was meant to provide an opportunity to undertake a systematic review of the leasing program to consider environmental impacts. 

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However, before Interior could determine how to implement the EO, lawsuits were filed by industry trade groups and several states. Skavdahl’s ruling addressed lawsuits brought by the state of Wyoming, Western Energy Alliance and Petroleum Association of Wyoming. A coalition of environmental groups had intervened to defend the postponement.

The ruling last week followed a different verdict in August. District Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana permanently blocked the EO in 13 states that had filed a lawsuit in March 2021 (Case No. 2:21-CV-00778). 

The Biden administration resumed public leasing for oil and gas earlier this year as the legal wrangling continued, but with significantly reduced acreage. Montana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming recently asked to intervene in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups after BLM held a lease sale in June

The sale, which consisted mostly of parcels in Wyoming, was one of the few initiated by the BLM since the Biden administration paused the sales. The June sale for nearly 144,000 acres of public land was an almost 80% reduction from previous federal leasing plans.

The battle over offshore leasing also continues to roil. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently reversed a decision to uphold the environmental review of more than 150 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico performed under the Trump administration. The decision sent the case back for further consideration by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.