The Biden administration entered a legal settlement Tuesday evening with environmental groups, agreeing to block drilling on more than 58,000 acres of public land.
The federal government will refrain from issuing any drilling permits across 113 leases spanning 58,617 acres in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota under the settlement between the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the coalition of organizations led by the WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club.
"Today’s agreement opens the door for the Biden administration to undo the Trump administration’s recklessness and disregard for the climate and public interest," Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director of the WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement Wednesday.
"Oil and gas leasing is completely at odds with climate action, we applaud the administration for agreeing to do the right thing," Nichols said.
The Bureau of Land Management — the DOI subagency tasked with managing public lands — agreed to conduct an additional environmental and climate impact analysis before issuing a final decision on the future of drilling permits on the leases. The analysis will be conducted in accordance with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's April 2021 order prioritizing climate change as a consideration in such reviews.
"We can no longer ignore the devastating effects continued fossil fuel leasing has on the health of our communities and the future of our planet," said Dan Ritzman, director of the Sierra Club's Lands Water Wildlife Campaign.
"We remain hopeful that this agreement will chart the way forward for public land management based in science and that serves the interests of people, not oil and gas corporations," he added.
The 113 leases were awarded to fossil fuel exploration and drilling companies during five lease sales held by the Trump administration in 2019 and 2020. The environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the five decisions in January 2021, just days before President Biden took office.
The settlement Tuesday represented the Biden administration's latest effort to aggressively scale back the federal oil and gas leasing program as part of its climate agenda. The administration has repeatedly delayed holding both onshore and offshore lease sales since taking office.
During its first 18 months, the Biden administration has leased 71,251 acres of public land for oil and gas drilling while the Trump administration leased 478,420 acres during its first 12 months.
The DOI declined to comment.