Biden Administration Moves Forward with Public Land Oil and Gas Leasing

The Biden Administration’s Department of the Interior recently resumed oil and gas lease sales on public lands after a temporary moratorium on all lease sales earlier in 2021. Despite the Administration’s climate pledge and campaign promise to ban ‘new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters,’ and the administration’s appeal of a federal judge’s preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to re-start the leasing program, the Department is moving forward with reckless, speculative leases that endanger our public lands and waters, wildlife, and drinking water supplies.

Oil and gas development proposals have been a very real threat to Southwest Montana’s world-class rivers and landscapes over the last few years. In 2018 and 2019, the Bureau of Land Management proposed lease sales for more than 10,000 acres of land adjacent to the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers. Thankfully, through grassroots citizen action, we beat back these short-sighted proposed leases and achieved temporary deferrals.  

Fortunately, there are no current drilling proposals up for lease in Southwest Montana this quarter (lease sales occur quarterly), and Waterkeeper has been working to improve a recent speculative drilling proposal in the Tendoy Mountains for a single exploratory well. The good news is that fracking will not be allowed under the lease, and no future expansion or further oil or gas development can occur until a full National Environmental Policy Act analysis has been completed to assess the diverse impacts of fracking activity.

Limiting the Tendoy development to a single exploratory, conventional well is a small, positive step in the right direction toward achieving permanent withdrawal of Southwest Montana parcels from the federal oil and gas leasing program. Industrial oil and gas development unnecessarily risks our trophy blue-ribbon fisheries, hunting and recreational opportunities, agriculture, and way of life, and does not belong in our public lands. Waterkeeper is continuing to work collaboratively with a variety of local and national conservation organizations and birddogging any new leading proposals to ensure oil and gas rigs stay out of federal lands in the Upper Missouri River Basin.