U.S. judge puts end to Biden federal drilling leasing halt

A federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration’s pause on oil and gas leasing on U.S. public lands and waters.

Joe Biden; Source: White House

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.

The move was part of a sweeping plan to rein in fossil-fuel extraction and combat the effects of climate change.

This halt was heavily criticised by both the oil industry and producing states, as well as industry associations like the International Association of GeoChemistry, Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the American Petroleum Institute.

The review of the future federal oil leasing program by the Biden administration started in late March and will be completed in the coming days.

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Fourteen states filed lawsuits to counter Biden’s decision. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia filed one lawsuit in federal court in Louisiana. The lawsuits allege the administration’s leasing pause violates the Mineral Leasing Act that requires quarterly lease sales. The fourteenth state – Wyoming – filed its lawsuit in federal court in that state. 

The Louisiana court ruled in favour of the thirteen states. According to Reuters, the judge’s decision, which applies to onshore and offshore leasing nationwide, will remain in effect pending the final resolution of the case or orders from higher courts, according to a court document.

Reuters said that, in the ruling, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana said the states had met the requirements to establish that they would suffer injury from the pause on new oil and gas leases with ‘millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake’. Doughty also stated that the states had a ‘substantial likelihood of success’ with their lawsuit.

The Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry called it ‘a victory not only for the rule of law but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans’.

It is worth noting the political side of this as the states which joined Louisiana’s lawsuit were all states with Republican attorneys general. Biden, of course, is a Democrat.

The Interior Department said it would comply with the ruling but did not say when auctions might resume while the API urged the administrationto move expeditiously to follow the court’s order and lift the federal leasing pause’.