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Federal authorities 'dragging their heels kicking and screaming' on Montana oil, gas leases

Trump-Public Lands
FILE – This Nov. 6, 2013 file photo shows a Whiting Petroleum Co. pump jack pulls crude oil from the Bakken region of the Northern Plains near Bainville, Mont. A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration’s leading steward of public lands has been serving unlawfully and blocked him from continuing in the position. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, that U.S. Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley was never confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate and served unlawfully for 424 days. Montana’s Democratic governor had sued to remove Pendley, saying the the former oil industry attorney was illegally overseeing a government agency that manages almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File) Matthew Brown/AP

Federal authorities ‘dragging their heels kicking and screaming’ on Montana oil, gas leases

September 25, 11:00 AM September 25, 11:00 AM

The Biden administration is delaying lease sales of federal lands for oil and gas exploration even after a court order, the head of the Western Energy Alliance said.

President Joe Biden banned oil and gas lease sales by directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to pause new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters. It did not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, the agency said.

After 13 states filed suit in federal court in Louisiana against the federal government over the ban, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty ruled that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act require the Department of Interior to hold periodic lease sales of available land for oil and gas production, World Oil reported. That hasn’t been done since the beginning of the Biden administration,.

“So they’re dragging their heels kicking and screaming, but they are moving forward with lease sales. My problem with it is that they’re redoing work that’s already been done and presenting that to the judge as if it’s progress,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told The Center Square.

Lands were ready for lease sales at the beginning of the year, with environmental analysis and all scoping completed during the Trump administration, she said. Lease sales were on the calendar for the first quarter of the year before the ban.

“So fast forward to June 15. A judge ruled that that leasing ban was unlawful, and that the department needed to lease two months after that,” she said.

The Department of the Interior reported to the judge that they are complying with the order. But they aren’t holding lease sales. They are redoing the analysis, which will delay onshore lease sales until February 2022.

“That I don’t think complies with either the letter or the spirit of the ruling from the judge. And it certainly doesn’t comply with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires quarterly lease sales in every oil and gas state,” she said.

The agency is required to hold a quarterly lease sale in Montana if there is interest, which is expressed by companies submitting nominations. And there are nomination in the state.

“Not only are there nominations, but there are at least parcels that have been fully vetted and were ready to be auctioned off in the early part of the year. And now, Interior is redoing that analysis and planning to wholesale holding sales in February of 2022,” Sgamma said.

The Western Energy Alliance is taking a separate tact, she said. The organization filed suit in the district of Wyoming in a separate case on the day Biden signed the executive order banning oil and gas lease sales. A brief was filed about four weeks ago to expedite the schedule of the case to get a final merit ruling in hopes of spurring the federal government along.

“But it is really hard to get the government to do its job. I mean, I think we all inherently understand that as citizens of the United States getting new federal government to do something efficiently and effectively is darn close to impossible. Just look at the withdrawal from Afghanistan for truth about that,” Sgamma said.

The Department of the Interior said that of the more than 26 million acres onshore under lease to the oil and gas industry, nearly 13.9 million acres are unused and non-producing.

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