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In July, BOEM proposed its 2023-2028 offshore leasing plan. Additionally, the IRA requires BOEM to reinstate four cancelled lease sales that were part of the agency’s 2017-2022 program, and BOEM has been holding those sales in accordance with the IRA’s timeline.
Why It Matters
Drilling for oil and gas presents risks to human health, coastal and fishing industries, and vulnerable conservation areas. Drilling in federal waters is regulated by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which control who may drill in federal waters by awarding leases to bidders and by regulating where and how drilling occurs. Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, BOEM is required to maintain a national five-year program that lays out the oil and gas lease sales that BOEM is considering holding in the upcoming five years.
Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, the DOI underwent a significant reorganization. President Obama removed certain areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas development and issued rules and guidance to fill regulatory gaps in emergency response and operational oversight. For more on these changes, see our post on the 10-year anniversary of Deepwater Horizon. President Trump made expanding areas of the offshore continental shelf to oil and gas leasing a key priority for his administration. In Executive Order (EO) 13795, President Trump directed the DOI to reconsider efforts to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development. President Biden revoked EO 13795 on Jan. 20, 2021 in EO 13990.
On Jan. 27, 2021 President Biden signed EO 14008, which paused all offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing pending a comprehensive review of the leasing and permitting program.. Several groups challenged the pause, and implementation of the pause was intermittent due to several conflicting court orders. However, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) makes it hard for the Biden administration to implement the pause given that renewable development hinges on continued oil and gas lease auctions. See our tracker page on the Biden Administration’s leasing pause and related litigation.
In November 2021, while the leasing pause was not in effect, BOEM approved Lease Sale 257, the largest lease sale ever offered. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit arguing that the sale violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutes. In January 2022, the District Court for the District of Columbia vacated Lease Sale 257. However, the IRA required BOEM to issue Lease Sale 257 within 30 days of the enactment of the Act, and BOEM accepted bids for the lease sale in September 2022. BOEM, environmental groups, and state and industry interveners are continuing litigation in the D.C. Circuit on whether the NEPA case is now moot. For more on the IRA’s changes to offshore oil and gas leasing, see our blog post.
BOEM also canceled upcoming offshore Lease Sales 258, 259, and 261, citing “lack of industry interest” and “conflicting court rulings.” The IRA reinstates these cancelled lease sales as well. BOEM held an auction for Lease Sale 258 in Dec. 2022 and will hold an auction for Lease Sale 259 in March 2023.
BOEM has continued to plan for upcoming offshore lease sales as required by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. On July 8, 2022, shortly after the 5-year plan was set to expire, BOEM published the 2023-2028 National Outer Continental Shelf Drilling and Leasing Proposed Program.
Timeline of Events
OBAMA ADMINISTRATIONRead More
Jan. 27, 2015 President Obama withdraws certain areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska from consideration for oil and gas leasing.
Dec. 20, 2016 President Obama issues two Presidential Memoranda withdrawing 3.8 million acres of OCS oil and gas development in the Atlantic and 115 million acres in the Arctic. All told, President Obama protects 125 million acres of the Arctic offshore.
Trump ADMINISTRATIONRead More
April 28, 2017 President Trump signs EO 13795 to “encourage energy exploration and production” on the OCS. The EO directs DOI to reconsider many actions the prior administration took to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development. This includes efforts to limit areas available for leasing. The order directs DOI to expand offshore oil and gas leasing by:
- considering lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South Atlantic, areas not yet open to oil and gas development; and
- modifying President Obama’s 20, 2016 and Jan. 27, 2015 withdrawals of areas from oil and gas development to limit them to those areas designated as Marine Sanctuaries as of July 14, 2008.
May 1, 2017 DOI Sec. Zinke issues Secretarial Order 3350 to direct BOEM and BSEE as to how to implement the president’s Executive Order. Zinke directed BOEM to initiate the development of a new five-year leasing program.
July 3, 2017 BOEM publishes a request for information and comments to assist the agency in preparing an expanded 5-year leasing program for 2019-2024.
Aug. 16, 2017 BOEM holds Lease Sale 249, resulting in bids for 90 tracts covering 508,096 acres in the Gulf of Mexico. This sale is the first of eleven in the Gulf of Mexico under the 2017-2022 5-year leasing program.
Jan. 4, 2018 The DOI releases a draft proposal for a 2019-2024 5-year leasing program. DOI says the draft proposal will open up “over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources” for oil and gas exploration and production.
March 21, 2018 BOEM holds Lease Sale 250, resulting in bids for 148 tracts covering 815,403 acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
March 30, 2018 BOEM publishes a Call for Information and Nominations covering a proposed lease sale in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic for the 2019-2024 planning period. The call seeks comments from industry about their interest in leasing in the area as well as comments on environmental issues.
May 9, 2018 The Department of Defense sends a report to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Armed Services Committee stating that offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico will likely be incompatible with military training and testing.
July 12, 2018 BOEM announces an Aug. 15, 2018 lease sale for 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico and publishes a notice of availability of the Record of Decision.
July 16, 2018 The Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity file suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Lease Sale 251 alleging it relied on arbitrary environmental analyses in violation of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. Gulf Restoration Network, et al. v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-01674 (D.D.C.).
Aug. 15, 2018 BOEM holds Lease Sale 251. The Lease Sale results in bids for 144 tracts covering 801,288 acres.
Nov. 16 2018 BOEM announced it has begun the process of developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed 2019 Beaufort Sea Lease Sale in the Beaufort Sea Planning Area.
March 13, 2019 Environmental groups challenge Lease Sale 252, set for March 20, 2019, which will offer areas of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas development, arguing the decision to offer these areas for sale violated NEPA. Healthy Gulf v. Bernhardt, Case No. 1:19-cv-00707 (D.D.C.).
March 20, 2019 BOEM holds Lease Sale 252, receiving bids on 227 tracts covering 1,261,133 acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
March 29, 2019 The District Court of Alaska vacates Sec. 5 of Pres. Trump’s EO 13795, reinstating former Pres. Obama’s withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic coastal areas from oil and gas leasing. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 3:17-cv-00101-SLG (D. Alaska).
April 25, 2019 Sec. Bernhardt tells the Wall Street Journal that the 5-year leasing plan for 2019-2024 is indefinitely on hold due to the federal court order that vacated part of Trump’s EO 13795.
May 28, 2019 The Trump administration appeals to the Ninth Circuit challenging the District of Alaska’s decision to reinstate President Obama’s withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic areas from oil and gas leasing. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).
Aug. 7, 2019 Environmental groups file a supplemental complaint in their lawsuit originally challenging Lease Sale 252 for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico. The supplemental complaint asks the court to add Lease Sale 253 to the challenge. The supplemental complaint argues that the sales are related because they rely on the same underlying environmental reviews. Healthy Gulf v. Bernhardt, Case No. 1:19-cv-00707 (D.D.C.).
June 5, 2020 The Ninth Circuit holds oral arguments in the appeal of the District of Alaska decision that vacated portions of President Trump’s EO 13795.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATIONRead More
Jan. 20-27 2021 President Biden signs EO 13990 that revokes Trump’s EO 13795. President Biden then signs EO 14008 that pauses all offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing pending a comprehensive review of the leasing and permitting program. For more on the pause and related litigation, see our tracker page. See our tracker page on the Biden Administration’s leasing pause and related litigation.
Jan. 27, 2021 The Ninth Circuit orders parties to submit supplemental briefs on the impact of President Biden’s EO 13990 on the case challenging Trump’s revocation of Obama’s withdrawal of areas from leasing via EO 13795. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).
March 15, 2021 The Biden administration asks the Ninth Circuit to end the case in light of President Biden’s EO 13990 revoking President Trump’s EO 13795. The Biden administration asks the court to vacate the lower court ruling and remand with instructions to dismiss the case. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).
April 13, 2021 The Ninth Circuit dismisses the appeal of the case on EO 13795 because President Biden’s Executive Order 13990 rendered the appeal moot. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).
June 15, 2021 The Western District of Louisiana issues a preliminary injunction blocking President Biden’s pause on oil and gas lease sales. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).
Aug. 9, 2021 A group of states file a motion asking the court to order DOI to hold Lease Sale 257. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).
Aug. 16, 2021 The Biden administration appeals the preliminary injunction that blocked the pause on new federal oil and gas leasing. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).
Aug. 24, 2021 DOI announces that it will continue to prepare lease sales during the appeal of the pause.
Aug. 24, 2021 The Department of Justice (DOJ) files a memorandum in response to the plaintiff states’ August 9 motion. DOJ argues that DOI had restarted the leasing program and was therefore complying with the preliminary injunction. DOJ further argues that the preliminary injunction did not require the Lease Sale to occur on any timeline, and the government was therefore entitled to complete a new environmental review. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).
Aug. 31, 2021 Environmental groups file a lawsuit challenging DOI’s decision to hold Lease Sale 257 in the Gulf of Mexico. The groups argue that the sale of Lease 257 violates the NEPA and the APA. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 1:21-cv-02317 (D.D.C.).
Sept. 17, 2021 Plaintiff states withdraw their motion to compel Lease Sale 257. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).
Oct. 29, 2021 BOEM publishes a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Lease Sale 258, which would offer leasing for oil and gas in Cook Inlet in the Gulf of Alaska. BOEM announces a 45-day public comment period on the DEIS.
Nov. 17, 2021 BOEM holds its largest sale ever offered, Lease Sale 257 for 308 tracts, covering 1.07 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. In approving the sale, the DOI claimed it was acting “consistent with a U.S. District Court’s preliminary injunction.” However, environmental groups argue that this sale was not required by the June 15 preliminary injunction.
Nov. 26, 2021 DOI issues a report reviewing the federal oil and gas leasing process and making recommendations for reform. The report finds, among other things, that the current system does not give taxpayers fair returns and does not fully account for environmental harm, and that the current system encourages speculation by and decreases competition among oil companies. The report outlines recommendations to fix these problems and concludes that DOI is deciding how it will act on these recommendations and encourages Congress to pass reforms to the oil and gas leasing process.
Jan. 27, 2022 The District Court for the District of Columbia blocks Lease Sale 257 in the Gulf of Mexico because the DOI failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impact of the project or to account for the effect of overseas fossil fuel use when calculating climate impacts, which violated NEPA. Friends of the Earth, et al., v. Haaland, et al., No. 21-cv-02317-RC (D.D.C.).
May 24, 2022 BOEM writes a letter to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explaining its decision not to hold the upcoming lease sales. Louisiana v. Biden, No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.).
June 6, 2022 – Louisiana appeals to the D.C. Circuit, asking the court to reverse the lower court’s order that canceled Lease Sale 257. Friends of the Earth v. Haaland, Docket No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir.).
July 1, 2022 BOEM publishes the 2023-2028 Proposed Program for the National Outer Continental Shelf Drilling and Leasing Program and its draft environmental impact statements. The plan proposes up to eleven potential lease sales over the next five years, with ten potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one potential sale in Cook Inlet in Alaska.
Aug. 16, 2022 President Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The IRA raises minimum royalty rates and adds new fees for lease auctions, reinstates lease sales 257, 258,259, and 261, and requires minimum acres to be offered for oil and gas development before DOI can issue leases for offshore wind development. Read more about these requirements in our recent blog post.
Aug. 17-18, 2022 The Fifth Circuit vacates the preliminary injunction that blocked the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leases and remands the case for additional proceedings. Louisiana v. Biden, No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.). The next day, the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issues a permanent injunction blocking the pause on new oil and gas leases, that applies in the thirteen plaintiff states: Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Louisiana v. Biden, No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.). However, the IRA makes it hard for the Biden administration to implement the pause given that renewable development hinges on continued oil and gas lease auctions.
Aug. 30, 2022 The D.C. Circuit holds that the DOI’s environmental impact statement for Lease Sales 250 and 251, both of which were held in 2018, “unreasonably refused to consider possible deficiencies in environmental enforcement.” The court remanded the sales to the agencies, but did not vacate them. Gulf Restoration Network v. Haaland, No. 20-05179 (D.C. Cir).
Sept. 14, 2022 BOEM accepts bids for Lease Sale 257 to comply with the IRA.
Sep. 15, 2022 BOEM files leave to file a motion to dismiss and a motion to dismiss the NEPA case against Lease Sale 257. BOEM argues that NEPA only requires Environmental Impact Statements for “major federal actions” and that with the passage of the IRA, Lease Sale 257 became nondiscretionary. Friends of the Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir.).
Sep. 16, 2022 Intervening defendants American Petroleum Institute and Louisiana file a motion in the D.C. Circuit asking the court for leave to file a motion to dismiss the case as moot. Friends of the Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir.).
Nov. 1, 2022 The D.C. Circuit issues a per curiam order granting BOEM’s and intervening defendants motions for leave to file a motion to dismiss.
Sep. 23, 2022 BOEM issues a Notice of Availability for Lease Sale 258 in Cook Inlet, Alaska. The IRA requires BOEM to hold this sale by the end of 2022.
Oct. 6, 2022 BOEM publishes a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Lease Sale 259 and 261 in the Gulf of Mexico with the public comment period open through November 14. The IRA requires BOEM to hold Lease Sale 259 by the end of March 2023 and Lease Sale 261 by September 2023.
Oct. 20, 2022 BOEM announces the availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the potential environmental impacts of Lease Sale 258 in Cook Inlet, Alaska. The IRA requires BOEM to hold this sale by the end of 2022.
Oct. 24, 2022 BOEM publishes a Proposed Notice of Sale (NOS) for Lease Sale 259 in the Gulf of Mexico to comply with the IRA. The auction is scheduled for March 29, 2023.
Nov. 23, 2022 Environmental groups file a motion opposing BOEM’s and intervening defendants’ motions to dismiss their NEPA case against Lease Sale 257 as moot. Friends of the Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir.).
Dec. 30, 2022 As required by the Inflation Reduction Act, BOEM holds Lease Sale 258 for tracts of land in Cook Inlet, Alaska. BOEM receives one bid for one tract of land. Agencies will now review the bid.
Jan. 11, 2023 Appellants American Petroleum Institute and Louisiana file a reply brief arguing that the case on the adequacy of BOEM’s NEPA Review of Lease Sale 257 is moot in light of the IRA. Alternatively, if the court does not dismiss the case as moot, appellants argue that the court should reverse the judgment of the D.C. District Court that vacated the sale and ordered further NEPA review. Friends of Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).
Jan. 25, 2023 Both sides file their final briefs in the litigation on the NEPA review of Lease Sale 257. Appellant API argues that the D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction to decide the appeal, that the environmental groups’ claims are premature for a court to decide, that DOI’s NEPA review was adequate, and that the District Court abused its discretion in vacating the sale. Environmental group appellees argue that the Circuit Court lacks appellate jurisdiction, that the D.C. District properly adjudicated their claims, that the D.C. District correctly held that DOI violated NEPA by failing to account for the potential global emissions associated with the lease sales, and that the D.C. District did not abuse its discretion in vacating the sale. Several groups file amicus briefs. Friends of Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).
Feb. 17, 2023 The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concludes that oral arguments “will not assist the court” in the litigation on Lease Sale 257, and it will issue an opinion on the basis of the record and appellate briefs. Friends of Earth v. Haaland, No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).
Feb. 24, 2023 As required by the IRA, BOEM publishes a final Notice of Sale for Lease Sale 259 for 73.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.