This week Powder River Basin Resource Council joined a broad coalition of conservation and tribal groups filing motions to intervene to defend the Department of Interior’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing pending the agency’s comprehensive review of the program. With this action, the groups seek to defend the leasing pause against two lawsuits filed by Wyoming and the Western Energy Alliance. The coalition argues this is the legal and necessary first step to a long-overdue review of the federal oil and gas leasing and permitting program.

“The Department of Interior’s actions pause the looting of public resources by developers accumulating excess leases at bargain basement prices,” said Bob LeResche, Powder River Board member. “The pause will not harm actual producers, who today hold thousands of acres of undeveloped leased resources. It will give our nation time to rationalize and restructure management of our public energy resources to meet future needs of climate, restoration, multiple use, and revenues.”

The oil and gas industry has stockpiled more than 7,000 federal drilling permits—permits for new drilling that will take years for industry to complete. The industry has also stockpiled more than 13 million acres of public lands oil and gas leases. That means the oil and gas industry can continue operating as normal for years without market disruptions.

“World energy markets are evolving very fast, and this leasing moratorium will let us look ahead and remain competitive in a carbon-constrained economy. The executive order promises serious aid to coal mining, power plant, and oil and gas communities challenged by market changes, and to address the thousands of abandoned and orphan oil and gas wells that BLM has failed to deal with in the past,” said LeResche.

While the state of Wyoming has taken steps to increase bonds and ensure cleanup costs, Interior has not acted to address thousands of likely orphan federal wells left abandoned on federal lands and private split estate lands. Reforming the leasing program to require adequate bonding up front is the only way to prevent taxpayers from having to pick up the bill for orphan well reclamation.

Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center filed the motions to intervene on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for Healthy Community, Conservation Colorado, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Indian Peoples’ Action, Montana Environmental Information Center, National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Valley Organic Growers Association, Western Colorado Alliance, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Western Watersheds Project, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Workshop, and WildEarth Guardians.