Photo: Illustration; Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

Biden administration to review future federal oil leasing program

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has revealed that it will launch a review of the federal oil and gas leasing program on Thursday, 25 March, via a virtual forum.

In reality, this review could show whether the Biden administration will permanently halt new leases on federal land and water or will it succumb to the influences of the industry stakeholders.

To remind, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January to indefinitely halt new oil and gas leasing in federal lands and waters. This came only days after Biden temporarily halted leasing in the same areas.

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The order both directed the Department of the Interior to pause new oil and natural gas leasing as well as to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program.

The targeted pause did not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.

DOI said on Tuesday that the day-long forum would feature several panels to highlight perspectives from industry representatives, labour and environmental justice organizations, natural resource advocates, and other experts.

In addition to the forum, the Interior Department is conducting outreach to Members of Congress, Governors, Tribes, and other state and local elected leaders. Members of the public will be able to offer written comments to inform the interim report.

This input would inform an interim report to be released in early summer outlining the next steps and recommendations on the future of the program and what can be done to reform how leases are managed, how much revenue should go to taxpayers and other issues.

DOI added that fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple bills in Congress have been introduced in recent years to reform the program, including those to better ensure the public is not shut out of land management and leasing decisions, address the mounting cleanup and remediation costs of orphan wells scattered across the country, and provide a fair return to tax payers for the use of their resources.

Over the last few years, the oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters. Onshore, of the more than 26 million acres under lease to the oil and gas industry, nearly 13.9 million or 53 per cent of those acres are non-producing.

Offshore, of the more than 12 million acres of public waters under the lease, over 9.3 million or 77 per cent of those acres are non-producing. Onshore and offshore, the oil and gas industry currently holds around 7,700 unused and approved drilling permits. 

Yet despite these facts, the Trump administration previously offered for lease more than 25 million acres of public land onshore and more than 78 million acres offshore for oil, gas, and mineral development.

While only 5.6 million onshore acres were purchased and 5 million offshore, this result clearly indicates that it is time for the Interior Department to take steps to better manage our public lands”, DOI said.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis stated: “The federal oil and gas program is not serving the American public well. It is time to take a close look at how to best manage our nation’s natural resources with current and future generations in mind.

This forum will help inform the DOI’s near-term actions to restore balance on U.S. lands and waters and to put our public lands’ energy programs on a more sound and sustainable conservation, fiscal, and climate footing”.