Obama Administration Suspends Oil, Gas Lease Sales in Three States

Published April 28, 2010

The federal Bureau of Land Management has halted all oil and natural gas lease sales on federal lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota while it conducts a study on how the lease sales might contribute to global warming.

Roots in Clinton Administration
Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association, said the Obama administration claims halting these lease sales will allow it to settle lawsuits filed by environmental activist groups.

“Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt [convinced former President Clinton to issue] an executive order in January 2001 saying that the Department of Interior needed to consider and analyze the potential of climate change impacts when making resource management decisions. The environmentalists have sued because the Bureau of Land Management failed to follow that secretarial order when it sold leases [in 2008 and 2010]”, said Sgamma.

“This decision to halt oil and gas lease sales is an example of the Obama administration using a secretarial order to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in absence of regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress,” Sgamma added.

Sgamma added that halting the lease sales will cost jobs and strangle economic development in Montana and the Dakotas.

Calling for Repeal
Randal O’Toole, a land-use and environmentalism expert at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, says the federal government’s decision to halt the sale of oil and gas leases should not be surprising given that the National Environmental Policy Act is still federal law and can be used to halt any resource development plan.

“Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bureau of Land Management is required to consider all of the environmental impacts of everything it does. So this decision is not surprising. What might be surprising is that it hasn’t been made earlier. Of course, I’ve long advocated that Congress repeal the National Environmental Policy Act, as it does far more harm to the economy than it does good for the environment,” O’Toole said.

Hoping for Quick Resolution
Sgamma hopes the federal freeze on oil and gas leasing will prove to be temporary.

“Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has shown some sensitivity to the Independent Petroleum Association’s concern over slowing lease sales in the West. The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management have an incentive not to appear anti-business in this economic environment, and we have heard from the Montana Bureau of Land Management that they are going to try to get the climate change and National Environmental Policy Act report done within six months,” she said.

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.