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Oil And Gas Industry, Conservation Groups Spar Over Biden's Federal Lands Leasing Pause

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Powder River Basin Resource Council

A number of conservation groups are joining the legal battle over President Biden's oil and gas leasing pause, filing a motion to defend the president's actions.

While representatives of the oil and gas industry seek relief from the president's temporary pause, the conservation groups like the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council argue that granting relief would harm the conservation groups' interests in "protecting public lands, offshore waters, and the climate from the impacts of federally managed oil and gas leasing and development."

"The Conservation Groups meet all the requirements to intervene as of right because they have individually and collectively worked for decades to protect public lands, waters, and vulnerable communities from the impacts of oil and gas development," the motion reads. "Many of Conservation Groups' member organizations have devoted years to advocating for a pause in federal oil and gas leasing while the government considers much-needed reforms."

One of President Biden's first actions in office was to institute this pause. The goal is to give the Department of the Interior time to reanalyze how it leases federal lands, and how that program plays into climate change. It is one part of the administration's wider efforts to reduce the United States' greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservation groups have been suggesting just such a pause and reevaluation for years.

But the move upset oil and gas companies, who argue the pause and other actions by the administration are hurting business. Biden's temporary moratorium was just one part of a larger sweep of climate change-oriented orders and rule changes. The administration also consolidated decision-making to the federal level.

Before that consolidation, local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices held more power when it came to approving new leases for drilling on federal lands. Now, producers describe sending applications into the "black box" of the federal BLM, and seldom hearing anything in response.

At a recent Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting, Pete Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said producers in the state are frustrated by this new reality.

He asked the commission, which includes Governor Mark Gordon, to help state producers by communicating the harm done by the new guidelines, and by evaluating private lands outside the BLM's scope.

The state has also taken legal action, challenging the legitimacy of the Biden Administration's temporary moratorium on leasing federal lands.

Wyoming is one of 14 states currently suing the Biden Administration over the issue.

But now, the coalition of conservation and tribal groups have filed a motion to intervene, aiming to defend the administration's pause.

Sierra Club Attorney Eric Huber said a review of federal leasing is long overdue.

"And industry and the state of Wyoming have sued to set that aside and force lease sales to keep going forward," Huber said. "So we intervened in a lawsuit to help defend the government on this one."

He said the oil and gas industry is exaggerating the impact of the pause.

"Nationwide and overall, the industry has thousands, several thousands, of pending lease sales going and they are fracking and drilling and everything else as we speak," Huber said. "So, they have a lot going on in the present and they also have thousands of future lease sales they haven't even started on yet that will last them a year or more. This is just a pause on sales that wouldn't be drilled for some time in the future."

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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