Biden administration’s oil and gas pause provides necessary opportunity to scrutinize federal public lands oil and gas leasing

The Biden Administration’s pause on January 27, 2021 on oil and gas leasing on federally-managed public lands provides a necessary opportunity to scrutinize the leasing program.  CWF welcomes this pause. Many parcels that BLM has leased during the past several years have been in severe winter range, production areas and migration corridors relied upon by big game for their survival.  In addition, parcels in priority greater sage grouse habitat have been leased or offered for lease after the former administration tried to set aside the 2015 grouse conservation plans. Further, in some areas of the state, BLM has leased or offered parcels that have low oil and gas development potential but important wildlife values such as bighorn sheep severe winter winter and production (birthing areas).

Earlier on January 21, 2021:

BLM acting director Scott de la Vega has placed a 60-day moratorium on oil and gas leasing and permitting on public lands on January 20 pursuant  to Interior Secretarial Order 3395 which temporarily suspends its departments including BLM from issuing “any onshore…fossil fuel authorization, including but not limited to a lease, amendment to a lease, affirmative extension of a lease, contract or other agreement or permit to drill…..”

This Order also temporarily suspends BLM’s authority “To issue, revise, or amend Resource Management Plans….”   This includes BLM’s authority to issue a final Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan – which includes South Park.  Although the draft plan for the South Park portion is relatively positive for wildlife and streams, CWF believes numerous provisions in the draft should be improved.

President Biden is expected to issue an executive order very soon that will require a review of the former administration’s plans for greater sage grouse habitat. The former administration had weakened the protections that were in the 2015 plans for Colorado and other western states. Under the 2015 Colorado plan, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to prioritize oil and gas leasing outside of greater sage grouse’s priority management and general management habitats. In 2019 BLM issued amendments to this plan.  But a federal district court enjoined the BLM from implementing its amendments, restoring the 2015 plans pending adjudication on the merits. BLM has not yet developed an acceptable approach for evaluating prioritization outside of greater sage grouse habitat.

Numerous other decisions by the Department of Interior will undergo review as well.