12/15/2021 - Regulatory Tracker

Federal Onshore and Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Pause and Review

This page tracks the federal oil and gas leasing pause and related litigation. For more on these leasing programs, see our Onshore Leasing Page and Offshore Leasing Page. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

Drilling for oil and gas presents risks to human health, coastal and fishing industries, and vulnerable conservation areas. Drilling on federal lands and waters is regulated by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and its bureaus, which control who may drill on federal lands and waters by awarding leases to bidders and by regulating where and how drilling occurs.

The Trump administration prioritized domestic oil production by expanding both onshore and offshore leasing. Trump’s Executive Order 13783 directed federal agencies to ease regulations slowing down the oil and gas leasing process and his Executive Order 13795 instructed DOI to limit offshore energy regulation. For more on this Executive Order, see our EO 13795 page.

When the Biden administration entered office in January 2021, it prioritized limiting offshore and onshore drilling. Biden revoked both Trump Executive Orders, and DOI announced a 60-day suspension of all new federal oil and gas leases. In Executive Order 14008, President Biden also announced that his administration would continue to pause all offshore and onshore leasing pending a full review of the federal leasing and permitting program.

Current Status

In response to a challenge filed by Louisiana and other states, a federal court in the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration’s leasing moratorium. The Biden administration appealed this decision, but has continued to hold lease sales pending appeal.

In November 2021, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its largest sale ever, Lease Sale 257. In approving the sale, the DOI claimed it was acting “consistent with a U.S. District Court’s preliminary injunction.” However, an earlier DOJ memo had suggested that the federal government could have conducted a new environmental review, and environmental groups condemn the government’s failure to do so. Some environmental groups have filed a lawsuit arguing that the sale of Lease 257 violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and estimating that the sale “will result in the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of fossil fuels over the next 50 years.”

Timeline of Events

obama administration
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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 administration
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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.

April 28, 2017 President Trump signs Executive Order 13795 to “encourage energy exploration and production” on the outer continental shelf. The Executive Order directs agencies to reconsider actions taken under the Obama administration to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development, including efforts to limit areas available for leasing.

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 processes more efficient.

May 28, 2019 Trump administration appeals to the Ninth Circuit a March 29, 2019 decision by a federal judge to reinstate Pres. Obama’s withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic areas from oil and gas leasing. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).

March 29, 2019 A federal judge in Alaska vacates Sec. 5 of President Trump’s EO 13795, reinstating former President Obama’s Jan. 27, 2015 and Dec. 20, 2016 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).

Biden Administration
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Jan. 20, 2021 DOI issues Secretarial Order No. 3395, announcing that the agency is temporarily  suspending its authority to issue any onshore or offshore fossil fuel authorizations, including new  lease sales, for 60 days.

Jan. 20, 2021 In Executive Order 13990, President Biden revokes the Trump Executive Order 13783 titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” EO 13783 directed federal agencies to streamline the oil and gas leasing process and suspend, revise, or rescind regulations that burdened the development of domestic energy resources.

Jan. 27, 2021 President Biden signs Executive Order 14008, which pauses all new federal offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing pending a comprehensive review of the leasing and permitting program. The order also revokes Trump’s EO 13795.

March 15, 2021 The Biden administration asks the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the case reviewing President Obama’s withdrawing certain Arctic and Atlantic coastal areas from oil and gas leasing in light of President Biden revoking President Trump’s EO 13795 (the EO challenged in this case). 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.).

March 24, 2021 Louisiana and twelve other states file a lawsuit challenging President Biden’s pause on new federal oil and gas lease sales arguing that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and the current 5-year Leasing Program prohibit the moratorium. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).

April 13, 2021 The Ninth Circuit dismisses the appeal of the March 29, 2019 decision by a federal judge to reinstate President Obama’s withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic areas from oil and gas leasing because President Biden’s Executive Order 13990 revoking Trump’s EO 13795 rendered the appeal moot. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).

June 15, 2021 A federal judge in the Western District of Louisiana issues a preliminary injunction blocking President Biden’s pause on oil and gas lease sales. The court holds that the leasing moratorium violates statutory authority given to DOI, the Bureau of Land Management, and BOEM under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the current 5-year leasing program. The judge further holds that the immediate impact of the pause renders the preliminary injunction an appropriate remedy and that the DOI may not continue to pause upcoming Lease Sales 257 or 258. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-CV-00778 (W.D. La.).

Aug. 9, 2021 Plaintiff states file a motion asking the court to order Lease Sale 257 and asking the federal government to show why its failure to make the sale does not put it in contempt of the preliminary injunction. 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 moratorium 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 process.

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, seeking vacatur and injunction of the sale. The groups argue that the sale of Lease 257 violates the NEPA and the APA and estimate that the sale “will result in the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of fossil fuels over the next 50 years.” 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. 4, 2021 BOEM publishes a notice in the federal register that it will open and publicly announce bids received for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico Outercontinental Gas Lease Sale 257 on Nov. 17, 2021.

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 also announces a 45-day public comment period on the DEIS.

Nov. 17, 2021 BOEM holds its largest sale ever, the Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 257 for 308 tracts, covering 1.07 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf. 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. These groups contend that by not conducting a new environmental review like the DOJ memo suggested was allowed, the federal government sped up the lease sale and worked against its decarbonization goals.

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.

Dec. 3, 2021 Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources file an amicus brief in support of environmental groups challenging the Gulf of Mexico lease sale, arguing that the administration’s environmental review “substantially underestimates” the environmental harms of the lease sale. The brief also argues that the nationwide injunction issued by the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana “in no way excused” DOI’s obligations under NEPA and the APA. Friends of the Earth, et al., v. Haaland, et al., No. 21-cv-02317-RC (D.D.C.).