President Biden to Halt Oil and Gas Leasing on Federal Lands

An executive order will suspend the sale of any new permits to extract oil and gas from federal lands and waters.

Oil pump on a sunset background. World Oil Industry
Anton Petrus / Getty Images

Today, President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign an executive order that will suspend the sale of any new permits to extract oil and gas from federal lands and waters. The memorandum will indefinitely halt the creation of all new leases, but will not prevent fossil fuel companies already holding leases to move forward with existing drilling or develop new projects. 

Climate advocates are hailing news of the order as an important first step towards meeting the goals Biden laid out on the campaign trail. In order to avoid the most catastrophic level of climate change, the United States will not only need to stop new fossil fuel production, but it will also need to transition away from fossil fuel production and use. 

Biden already suspended oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on his first day in office. Leases on federal lands account for about 22 percent of oil production and a quarter of the planet-warming carbon pollution in the U.S. 

The Biden administration is expected to announce that the memorandum will give the government time to reevaluate how its leasing program might operate going forward, but it may also open the door to rolling back existing permits or cutting back on fossil fuel extraction on federal lands in other ways. 

According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are currently 26 million acres of federal lands that have been leased for oil and gas drilling, but much of that land has not yet been exploited. These unused leases could conceivably be refunded or revoked, but that kind of move would likely face legal challenges from the fossil fuel industry.  

The pause on federal fossil fuel leases is just one of several major environmental executive orders expected to be signed today. Separate orders aim to reinforce scientific integrity, and another will lay out a plan to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030.

The “30x30” plan is based on a science-based goal to prevent widespread species and ecosystem loss, and create a natural bulwark against climate change. Over 450 local and state officials signed an open letter urging Biden to support the goal, an effort coordinated by the League of Conservation Voters. There is also a push to get this biodiversity target adopted globally, similar to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. 

"Week two of Biden's term makes clear that climate is a top priority," said Natalie Mebane, associate director of policy at "He's gotten straight to work reversing the devastating ignorance of science and catastrophic environmental rollbacks over the last four years." 

View Article Sources
  1. "About the BLM Oil and Gas Program." Bureau of Land Management.