A federal agency leased over three times more federal acres to oil and gas companies during the Trump administration's final fiscal year than in the final fiscal year under the Obama administration.
In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, leased more than 577,000 federal acres for oil and gas development, compared with nearly 1.9 million acres leased in fiscal year 2020, according to data from the agency.
The BLM, an agency within the U.S. Interior Department, issued 73% more new oil and gas leases on federal lands in fiscal year 2020 than in fiscal year 2016: 899 versus 520 leases. The total number of federal drilling permit approvals also skyrocketed over the period. The BLM approved 2,184 permits in fiscal year 2016 compared with 4,226 in fiscal year 2020, a 94% increase.
However, the total number of federal oil and gas leases in effect declined almost 7% from the final fiscal year under former President Barack Obama to the final fiscal year under former President Donald Trump. Total leases fell from 40,143 to 37,496 over the period. The total number of leased acres also declined slightly from about 27.2 million to roughly 26.6 million over that time frame.
The number of producing acres and leases on federal lands was about consistent between the two administrations' final fiscal years in office.
President Joe Biden has already taken several executive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands as part of his climate and clean energy policies. Immediately after assuming office in January, Biden paused new oil and gas leases on federal lands until the Interior Department could complete a review of the federal leasing program, a move that drew sharp criticism from the oil and gas industry and many Republican lawmakers.
On Jan. 20, the Interior Department also suspended approvals of fossil fuel leasing and permitting plans for 60 days. Analysts said at the time that the two-month moratorium would not have a significant near-term impact on the industry and noted that a longer suspension would likely face significant legal opposition.
The federal agency confirmed in a March 16 email that the 60-day suspension will expire March 21, but it declined to comment further on what the moratorium achieved.
The agency's actions drew criticism from U.S. House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who said the "back-and-forth has cloaked the entire industry in confusion."
"It's becoming increasingly clear that the Biden administration has no comprehensive plan in place for dealing with energy and environmental issues," Westerman said. "First they create a bottleneck on existing energy leases, then they prohibit all new leases indefinitely, and now they're back to allowing existing leases to proceed."