03/01/2019 - Regulatory Rollback

Onshore Extractive Energy Leasing

by EELP Staff

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

The Trump administration has prioritized opening up public lands to boost domestic oil and gas production as part of its effort to promote “energy independence and economic growth.” This includes efforts to expand offshore drilling in tandem with expanded onshore oil and gas leasing. Under the Obama administration, oil production on federal lands increased slowly while natural gas production declined.

In Executive Order 13783, President Trump directed federal agencies to streamline the oil and gas leasing process and review and rescind regulations related to energy development, among other directives. The administration’s efforts include expanded energy development on federal lands and in formerly protected wilderness areas and national monuments. For example, President Trump reduced the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to allow for greater mineral and commercial use of lands near these monuments. Congress authorized drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as part of its 2017 tax reform bill and the Department of Interior has taken steps towards allowing oil and gas lease sales in ANWR. Interior is also making land available for lease in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska that the prior administration had removed from leasing consideration.

The Obama administration also imposed restrictions on hydraulic fracturing and methane flaring on federal lands and expanded protections for endangered wildlife. The Department of Interior, at the behest of Trump’s executive order, has halted or revisited regulatory efforts to lessen the impacts of extractive industries on federal lands such as revising the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule and lifting a moratorium on coal leasing put in place to allow for an assessment of the health and environmental impacts of such extraction. Similarly, this administration rescinded BLM’s updated regulation on hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands.

The rapid undoing of these regulations and expansion of areas available for leasing poses a risk to human health and safety and threatens to put vulnerable conservation areas at risk from development. The Trump administration is moving to open up previously protected federal lands for economic exploitation in a way not seen in recent years.

This page tracks the administration’s changes in approach to onshore energy leasing but does not attempt to track every lease sale. For detailed information on some of the regulatory changes described above, and others, see the links at the bottom of this page.

Current Status

The Trump administration has reversed efforts by the Obama administration to reform the leasing system to reduce conflict for competing uses of public lands as well as moved forward with more expansive leasing of public lands for oil and gas development. This page highlights some of the ongoing activities in this area. See also our page on the reversal of the BLM Land Use Planning 2.0 regulations.


May 17, 2010 BLM issues Instruction Memorandum No. 2010-117, which introduces the concept of a master lease plan (MLP) aimed at coordinating environmental, recreational, historical, and other interests when conducting oil and gas leasing on federal and Indian lands.

Jan. 28 2013 BLM issues Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-101 which further incorporates MLPs into BLM’s lease planning process.

Jan. 25, 2015 President Obama calls on Congress to designate the Coastal Plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness, protecting an additional 12 million acres of land.  For more detail on leasing in ANWR, visit our page here.

March 25, 2015 BLM publishes a final rule restricting hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands. For more detail on the Trump Administration’s rescission of this rule, visit our page here.

Nov. 18, 2016 BLM publishes a final rule requiring oil and gas producers on federal and Indian lands to reduce the venting and flaring of gas produced as a byproduct of oil and gas production. For more detail on the Trump Administration’s revisions of this rule, visit our page here.

Trump Era

March 28, 2017 President Trump issues Executive Order 13783 which directs executive agencies to review and revise regulations that burden domestic energy production.

March 29, 2017 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issues Secretarial Order 3349 which directs the Department of Interior to review and revise regulations that burden domestic energy production in line with Executive Order 13783.

July 6, 2017 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issues Secretarial Order 3354 which directs the Bureau of Land Management to more regularly implement oil and gas lease sales and to make its permitting process more efficient.

Dec. 22, 2017 Congress passes Public Law No: 115-97 (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) which also includes provisions that directs the Department of Interior to open ANWR’s Coastal Plain to oil and gas production and administer a leasing program. For more detail on the expansion of energy production in ANWR’s Coastal Plain, visit our page on this topic here. We do not track these developments on this page.

Oct. 24, 2017 The Department of Interior issues its final report pursuant to Executive Order 13783 documenting regulations that may burden domestic energy production and steps the DOI has taken or plans to take to reduce the regulatory burden.

  • The report documents immediate steps that Interior has taken to promote energy production, including seven Secretarial orders.
  • Interior also documents regulations that BLM, BOEM, and other organizations within Interior have determined are redundant or unnecessarily restrict growth, such as longer land use planning timelines.
  • For more information on Executive Order 13783, visit our page here.

Dec. 4, 2017 President Trump shrinks the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to promote oil and gas development. The decision to reduce the monuments invites immediate lawsuits and litigation is ongoing. For more information about the administration’s efforts to change national monuments, visit our page on the topic here.

Jan. 31, 2018 BLM issues Instruction Memorandum No. 2018-034 which eliminates the use of Obama-era master leasing plans (MLPs) in favor of prior resource management plans (RMPs).

  • MLPs were intended to reduce conflict on public lands where competing interests often want to utilize resources on the same parcel. RMPs are developed at the field office or state level and focus primarily on oil and gas development.
  • The Instruction Memorandum also reduces the time available to oppose proposed lease sales and allows for the use of Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) in lieu of an environmental impact assessment.

Feb. 7, 2018 BLM cancels its application to withdraw over 1.3 million acres of land within the California Desert National Conservation Lands from mining claims.

March 20, 2018 BLM auctions off over 51,000 acres of land for oil and gas production, including areas that were formally part of the Bears Ears National Monument.

September 5-6, 2018 BLM lease sales in New Mexico take in nearly $1 billion in revenue, a record. In 2017, BLM as a whole took in only $360 million in revenue.

Sep. 13, 2018 The Forest Service issues an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that aims to streamline oil and gas leasing of national forests and grasslands to reduce the regulatory burden on industry and to promote oil and gas production. For more information on the Forest Service rule, visit our page here.

Sep. 21, 2018 The US District Court for the District of Idaho issues an injunction preventing the Department of Interior from carrying out oil and gas lease sales under the Instruction Memorandum No. 2018-034 on federal lands identified in 2015 as “Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Management Areas.” For more information on the administration’s efforts to revise the sage grouse conservation plans visit our page here.

Oct. 2018 BLM removes more than a million acres of land from auction in response to the US District Court for the District of Idaho’s preliminary injunction.

Jan. 2019 BLM recalls workers during the federal shutdown to prepare for upcoming oil and gas lease sales. Workers were reported to have scheduled meetings relating to ANWR during the shutdown, prompting House Natural Resources Committee Chairperson Raúl Grijalva to demand information on the on DOI’s resource allocation.

Feb. 6, 2019 Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Utah-based conservation organization, files suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah to vacate BLM’s March 2018 lease sale of over 50,000 acres in San Juan County, Utah. The suit alleges that BLM violated the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act, among other statutes, when it went ahead with the lease sale in San Juan County. The lease region is close to Bears Ears and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments. Friends of Cedar Mesa v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Case No. 19-00013 (D. Utah).

Feb. 12, 2019 The Senate passes the Natural Resources Management Act (NMRA), which expands federal wilderness and conservation areas and withdraws certain conservation areas from mining.

  • The NMRA permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides funds for federal and state conservation efforts. The LWCF is primarily funded from royalties on lease sales of federal offshore lands for oil and gas production.

Sep. 11, 2019 BLM leases 32,000 acres of land for oil and gas development near Hovenweep National Monument in Utah. The land is less than 20 miles from the monument, which includes a series of Diné tribal village ruins. Native American groups and other critics fear that oil and gas development will damage the historic sites.

Oct. 8, 2019 Environmental groups sue BLM arguing a RMP for lands in Colorado did not adequately consider indirect, cumulative or downstream climate change impacts of the leases in its environmental review. Center for Biological Diversity v. BLM, No. 1:19-cv-02869 (D. Co.).

Oct. 30, 2019 The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sue BLM over its approval of an RMP amendment and EIS allowing oil and gas leasing on 725,000 acres of federal land and mineral estate in California. The groups contend that BLM did not fulfill its responsibilities under NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. Center for Biological Diversity v. BLM, Case No. 19-07155 (N.D. Cal.).

Dec. 12, 2019 BLM’s field office in Bakersfield, CA publishes a Record of Decision on a required supplemental environmental impact statement that says fracking would have a “negligible” impact on health and the environment in the area. This decision upholds BLM’s 2014 Resource Management Plan for Bakersfield, which was delayed when a judge determined that the agency needed to give more attention to environmental issues related to fracking.

Jan. 9, 2020 Conservation groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility sue BLM over the agency’s leasing of almost 2 million acres of public land in CO, MT, NM, UT, and WY. The organizations argue that BLM violated NEPA by not adequately considering the impact of oil and gas leasing on climate change. — WildEarth Guardians v. BLM, No. 1:20-cv-00056 (D.D.C.).

March 2, 2020 Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler dismisses plaintiff’s suit asking the court to vacate BLM’s lease sale in San Juan County, Utah. Friends of Cedar Mesa v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Case No. 19-00013 (D. Utah).

May 1, 2020 Montana District Court Chief Judge Brian Morris vacates 287 oil and gas leases on federal land in Montana finding BLM failed to conduct proper environmental analyses of the leases, as required by NEPA. In particular, BLM erred when it failed to calculate the combined climatic effect of the leases, instead comparing each lease’s individual impact with state emissions totals. WildEarth Guardians v. BLM, No. 18-cv-00073 (D. Mont.)

June 9, 2020 BLM releases draft environmental assessment for public comment on 77 parcels expected to be auctioned in a September lease sale. The public comment period is open through

July 9, 2020. The lease sale would be near Canyonlands, Arches and Capitol Reef national parks and Bears Ears National Monument. BLM did not include some parcels that had been nominated by industry.

Aug. 19, 2020 Environmental groups file a lawsuit challenging BLM’s plan to expand oil and gas leasing in Colorado on several grounds, including failure to consider impacts to the climate and natural resources and failure to take steps to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands at issue. Citizens for a Healthy Community v. BLM, No. 1:20-cv-02484 (D. Colo.).

Sept. 29, 2020 BLM releases the results of its September oil and gas lease sale. The sale includes 27,387 acres of public lands in Utah.

Oct. 16, 2020 The United States District Court for the District of Montana invalidates three Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land-use revisions in Montana because former Acting Director William Pendley was not authorized to issue the revision. The decision impacts the Lewiston, Miles City, and Missoula Resource Management Plan amendments. Bullock v. Bureau of Land Management, No. 4:20-cv-00062.

Oct. 23, 2020 The D.C. District Court grants EPA’s request to redo NEPA analysis of leasing decisions for oil and gas leases in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. WildEarth Guardians v. Bernhardt, No. 1:20-cv-00056 (D.D.C.).

Oct. 27, 2020 Environmental groups amend complaint challenging a BLM resource management plan in Colorado because former Acting Director William Pendley was not authorized to approve the plan. Citizens for a Healthy Community v. BLM, No. 1:20-cv-02484 (D. Colo.).

Nov. 13, 2020 BLM proposes a lease sale of approximately 474, 531 acres in Wyoming to be held in March 2021. The public comment period runs through Dec. 13, 2020. 

Nov. 13, 2020 The D.C. Circuit rejects BLM’s environmental review for oil and gas leases in Wyoming for failure to sufficiently consider the environmental impacts of the leasing decisions. WildEarth Guardians v. Jewell, No. 1:16-cv-01724-RC (D.D.C.)

For More Information

On Executive Order 13783: Energy Development

On Executive Order 13868 on Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Energy Growth

On Executive Order 13867 on the Issuance of Permits with Respect to Facilities and Land Transportation Crossings at the International Boundaries of the United States

On BLM Land Use Planning 2.0

On changes to regulations governing onshore energy development:

On offshore oil and gas development:

On opening up previously protected areas to development: