60-day leasing moratorium ordered on federal lands, waters

Feb. 1, 2021

A 60-day moratorium on new oil and gas leases and permits on federal onshore and offshore lands was issued Jan. 20 by Acting US Interior Sec. Scott de la Vega.

“This does not limit existing operations under valid leases,” the secretarial order said.

The moratorium also blocks “grants of rights of way, easements, or any conveyances of property, or interests in property, including land sales and exchanges, or any notices to proceed under previous surface use authorizations that will authorize ground-disturbing activities.”

That would serve as a barrier to pipelines and roads crossing federal lands.

The order also is a blanket restriction on much of the work of Interior Department bureaus and offices, while allowing for decisions by political appointees in the top echelons of the department and acting officials filling in for the political appointees.

“The decision to try to halt these projects without process is not just ill-advised, it’s illegal,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “The Department of the Interior has a legal obligation to act on drilling permit applications after 10 days. Staff memos cannot override the law.”

Industry officials warned of job destruction and more imports.

“Restricting mineral production on federal lands and waters is a misguided proposal that will decimate jobs and economic development in communities across the country,” said Dan Naatz, IPAA senior vice-president of government relations and political affairs.

“All a leasing ban will do is shift production to Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have far less stringent environmental controls than American producers,” Naatz said.

Before the pandemic, 2019 EIA data showed the US was importing about 500,000 b/d of crude oil from Saudi Arabia and Russia. Both countries have spare capacity that could be increased for shipments to the US.