Written by Matthew Brown Associated Press
Billings, Mont. – The Biden administration said Tuesday it will file an interim report on suspending oil and gas sales from federal land and water by summer, but officials declined to specify how long the moratorium could remain in effect.
A long-term ban on rental sales from the nation’s vast publicly-owned oil and gas reserves to tackle climate change would fulfill the campaign pledge from Democratic President Joe Biden.
The prospect has ranked Republicans and oil industry representatives, who said Biden is putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Oil and gas from the federal reserves in the western states and the Gulf of Mexico make up about a quarter of the United States’ production.
Rent sales to drilling companies have been a frequent target of lawsuits from environmentalists who allege officials have ignored the climate impact of the oil and gas program.
Biden announced a temporary suspension of new sales a week after taking office.
Tuesday’s announcement provided the first details of the Home Office program review that officials said will study climate issues and whether taxpayers are getting a fair return on energy rental sales for private companies.
Last month, the administration postponed rental sales in the Gulf and four states – Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
“The federal oil and gas program is not serving the American people well,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Laura Daniel Davis in a statement. “It is time to take a close look at how best to manage our nation’s natural resources with current and future generations in mind.”
The administration has pledged to spend billions to help move away from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Biden said creating clean energy jobs is a top priority.
Agency spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said there was no estimate of how long the review might take.
Eric Milito of the National Association of Ocean Industries, which represents oil companies operating abroad, said even a short-term lease suspension would quickly affect the companies, and tie their hands as they pursue drilling plans for years to come.
“We’ll start to see companies start making decisions that will move investments and jobs outside of the United States.” Milito said. He added that the longer the suspension, the more vulnerable the administration became to legal challenge.
Democrats, environmentalists, and left-leaning policy groups have said the leasing program has remained unchanged for decades and needs to be reformed in the face of climate change.
“The oil and gas leasing program is disrupted, clear and simple,” said Jenny Rowland of the Center for American Progress, a liberal political group based in Washington that was supportive of Biden’s agenda.
The Home Office said it will host a live forum on the leasing program on March 25 to solicit input from industry representatives, business groups, environmental sanitation and natural resource advocates.
Officials said the report outlining the preliminary findings and next steps in the review would be completed by early summer.