New oil and gas drilling could be hindered by the Biden-Harris administration, after a judge lifted the pause pushed by president Joe Biden in January; experts quoted by Reuters agree, nevertheless, that the government has plenty of other options to slow down and hinder new developments on controlled lands and waters.
Firstly, some of the options would be offering sparse acreage or imposing more time-consuming permitting requirements. Kathleen Sgamma, president of industry trade group Western Energy Alliance, said in an interview with Reuters. “We lived through the Obama administration, and they did a lot of things to constrain leasing and other activity on federal lands. Frankly, they have the power to do so.”
Secondly, as we reported previously; on Tuesday a federal judge lifted the pause that Joe Biden put on new oil and gas leases in federal lands. Louisiana federal court Judge Terry Doughty; who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, ordered the government to lift the suspension.
However, the administration has plenty of other ways to hinder new oil and gas developments on federal lands; for example, deciding which are “eligible lands” for leases. “The system can’t operate unless there’s a fair amount of discretion built in,” said to Reuters Drew Caputo; vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at environmental group Earthjustice. “Otherwise, any oil and gas company could come in at any time and demand a lease in location X.”
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New oil and gas leases would face challenges in courts: environmental groups
Thirdly, after the pause lifting, Biden’s Interior Department will release a report with recommendations on how to reform the century-old oil and gas leasing program. When reformed and fully resumed leases; still Interior Department has the authority to conduct leases with strict stipulations and prolonged permitting timelines. Or even it can put up a limited number of acres up for auction, frustrating bidders.
Moreover, according to the Reuters report, the industry is already anticipating that Interior will prolong the review of potential lease areas using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); which requires that federal agencies assess the environmental impacts of projects. “NEPA is a great tool for paralysis by analysis… we will see NEPA take longer,” Sgamma said to the news agency.
On the other hand, Environmental groups like WELC and WildEarth Guardians are ready to sue again if drilling lease sales resume. “We hope we don’t have to name Deb Haaland as a defendant in a case. That would really be sad. But we have to do what we have to do, and this program is off the rails.” Said Jeremy Nichols, WELC’s climate and energy program director.