US ends oil, gas lease sales from public land through June

BILLINGS, Mont. — The U.S. Interior Department is cancelling oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June amid an ongoing review of how the program contributes to climate change, officials said Wednesday.

The action does not affect existing leases and the agency has continued to issue new drilling permits during an open-ended review of the program that was ordered by the White House, said Nada Culver, deputy director of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

Lease sales were scheduled in at least two states — Nevada on June 8 and Colorado on June 27. Details on the cancellations were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of their public announcement.

Officials previously postponed or suspended lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in states including Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Utah.

Biden on Jan. 27 ordered Interior officials to review if the program unfairly benefits companies at the expense of taxpayers and its impact on climate change.

Republican lawmakers have said the oil and gas moratorium will harm the economies of Western states without putting a significant dent in climate change. There is no end date for the review, but an interim report due this summer could reveal the Biden administration’s long-term plans for lease sales.

Burning of oil, gas and coal from government-owned lands and waters is a top source of U.S. emissions, accounting for 24% of the nation’s greenhouse gases. Oil and gas account for the biggest chunk of human-caused fossil fuel emissions from federal lands following a drilling surge under former President Donald Trump.

The leasing ban is only temporary, although officials have declined to say how long it will last. And it’s unclear how much legal authority the government has to stop drilling on about 23 million acres (9 million hectares) previously leased to energy companies.