12/15/2021 - Federal Policy - Oceans & Offshore Energy - 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.

Quick Take

A court blocked the Biden administration’s onshore and offshore federal leasing pause, and the administration is appealing this injunction while continuing to implement its leasing programs. For offshore leases, BOEM proposed its 2023-2028 offshore leasing plan, though all offshore lease sales planned during the Biden administration have thus far been cancelled. For onshore leases, BLM began hosting lease sales in June 2022

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.

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

Louisiana and other states challenged the Biden administration’s leasing pause, and a federal court in the Western District of Louisiana agreed with the states issuing 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) approved Lease Sale 257, the largest lease sale ever. In approving the sale, the DOI claimed it was acting “consistent with a U.S. District Court’s preliminary injunction.”  In response, environmental groups file a lawsuit arguing that the sale violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and estimating that it would “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.” In January 2022, the District Court for the District of Columbia vacated Lease Sale 257, finding that the DOI failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impact as required by NEPA. On May 10, 2022 the Fifth Circuit hears oral arguments on the preliminary injunction that halted the Biden administration’s leasing pause. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.).

With the vacatur of Lease Sale 257, no offshore lease sales have been completed under the Biden administration. BOEM canceled upcoming offshore Lease Sales 258, 259, and 261, citing “lack of industry interest” and “conflicting court rulings.” However, 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

In June 2022, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held onshore lease sales for the first time in the Biden administration. BLM auctioned 173 parcels of federal lands, and environmental groups have also challenged these sales. Dakota Resource Council et. al v. Department of the Interior et al., Docket No. 1:22-cv-01853 (D.D.C.).

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 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 The 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.

Jan. 27, 2022 Western Energy Alliance petitions the District of Wyoming to review President Biden’s suspension of the oil and gas leasing program. Western Energy Alliance v. Biden, No. 0:21-cv-00013 (D. Wyo.).

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.).

Jan. 19, 2022 Over 360 environmental groups sent a legal petition to the Biden administration to reduce oil and gas drilling to 98% lower than current levels by 2035. The petition explains that, without action, it will be difficult for the United States to keep its pledge to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5℃. 

Jan. 20, 2022 Over 80 environmental organizations sign and send a letter to the Biden administration, which urges the Department of the Interior to write a new 5-year Offshore Lease Program that bans lease sales starting in 2022. The letter also calls on Secretary Haaland to repudiate Lease Sale 257. 

Jan. 27, 2022 The District Court for the District of Columbia blocks Lease Sale 257 in the Gulf of Mexico because the Department of the Interior 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 the National Environmental Policy Act. Friends of the Earth, et al., v. Haaland, et al., No. 21-cv-02317-RC (D.D.C.). For more background on the ruling, see EELP’s overview of the NEPA Review Process or visit our NEPA Tracker Page for the most up to date review requirements. 

Feb. 1, 2022 The Department of the Interior mistakenly posted language on its oil and gas webpage that indicated royalty fees for leases would increase to 18.75%. The Department later removed the language, and a spokesperson for the Department said the decision to increase royalty rates was not yet final.

Feb. 8, 2022 310 environmental groups file a petition asking the Department of the Interior to immediately stop new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Feb. 8, 2022 Intervenor defendant, the American Petroleum Institute files a notice of appeal with the D.C. Circuit, challenging the D.C District Court’s decision to block Lease Sale 257 in the Gulf of Mexico. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 1:21-cv-02317 (D.D.C.).

Feb. 14, 2022 Louisiana, another intervenor defendant, files a notice of appeal in the D.C. Circuit case that blocked Lease Sale 257. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).

Feb. 14, 2022 The Biden administration asks the 5th Circuit to reverse the Western District of Louisiana’s decision that blocked the Biden administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters. Among other issues, the Biden administration argues that Biden’s Executive Order 14008 is both lawful and unreviewable and that the plaintiffs relied on erroneous interpretations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.)

Feb. 18, 2022 Environmental groups file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction in the D.C. Circuit case that blocked Lease Sale 257. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).

Feb. 22, 2022 A federal judge in the Western District of Louisiana blocks the Biden administration’s application of an interim social cost of carbon metric., Louisiana v. Biden, No. 21-cv-01074 (W.D. La.). For updates on the metric and this litigation, see our Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases tracker page. In light of this decision, the Biden administration announces that it will delay decisions on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands

Feb. 28, 2022 The Biden administration announces that it will not appeal the District Court’s decision that canceled Lease Sale 257 in the Gulf of Mexico. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 1:21-cv-02317 (D.D.C.).

Mar. 8, 2022 The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denies an emergency motion by American Petroleum Institute to expedite the appeal of the District Court decision that canceled Lease Sale 257. Friends of the Earth, et al. v. Haaland, et al., Docket No. 22-05037 (D.C. Cir).

Apr. 15, 2022 To comply with the preliminary injunction issued by the court in Louisiana v. Biden, the DOI announces that the BLM will issue notices for lease sales that will increase in royalty rates from 12.5% to 18.75% and limit the acreage available for leasing. Though this round of lease sales will move forward, the Biden administration continues its appeal of that injunction. Louisiana et al v Biden et al, Docket No. 2:21-cv-00778 (W.D. La.).

April 18, 2022: The BLM publishes final environmental assessments and sale notices for June 2022 lease sales. The final sale notices reduces the acreage of land available for leasing on public lands by 80% and increased royalty rates. For offshore leases, the current 5-year program is scheduled to end on June 30, 2022.

Apr. 19, 2022: The plaintiffs in Western Energy Alliance v. Biden assert that the notice put forward by the Bureau of Land Management still violates the Mineral Leasing Act because BLM did not establish a reliable and predictable leasing system in the future. A hearing in that case is scheduled for May 13. Western Energy Alliance v. Biden, No. 0:21-cv-00013 (D. Wyo.).

Apr. 29, 2022 Republican states attorneys general ask the Western District of Louisiana to grant summary judgment in the case challenging leasing pause. The states also challenge the cancellation of lease sales, including the cancellation of Lease Sale 257. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 2:21-cv-00778 (W.D. La). 

May 10, 2022 The Fifth Circuit hears oral arguments on the preliminary injunction that halted the Biden administration’s leasing pause. Louisiana v. Biden, Docket No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.).

May 12, 2022 BOEM cancels upcoming offshore Lease Sales 258, 259, and 261, citing “lack of industry interest”  and “conflicting court rulings” as reasons for the cancellations. 

May 19, 2022 During a hearing in front of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Secretary Haaland says the DOI will propose a new 5-year offshore leasing plan by June 30, 2022, when the current 5-year plan is set to expire.

May 19, 2022 The states in Louisiana v. Biden write a letter to the Fifth Circuit to inform the court about the three cancelled lease sales. Louisiana v. Biden, No. 21-30505 (5th Cir.).

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.). Fourteen states and several oil companies file amicus briefs supporting Louisiana.

June 28, 2022 Several environmental groups file a lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that BLM violated NEPA by failing to issue a cumulative environmental impact statement. The groups also claim that the decision to hold lease sales violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which requires BLM to “take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands.” Dakota Resource Council et. al v. Department of the Interior et al., Docket No. 1:22-cv-01853 (D.D.C.).

June 29, 2022 For the first time during the Biden administration, BLM holds lease sales for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, citing the preliminary injunction that stopped the Biden administration’s pause on lease sales. The auctions cover 173 parcels in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah. 

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. BOEM will accept public comments on the proposal until October 6, 2022.