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A pump jack operates in front of a drilling rig at sunset in an oil field in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. Photo by...

Biden suspends oil, gas leases on public lands for 60 days

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration has suspended new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on public lands and waters for 60 days as part a review of programs at the U.S. Department of Interior.

The move follows President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new drilling and end the leasing of publicly owned energy reserves as part of his plan to address climate change.

The suspension went into effect immediately under an order signed Wednesday by Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega. The order did not limit operations under valid leases, meaning oil and gas activity won’t come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated.

The order also blocks the approval of new mining plans, land sales or exchanges and the hiring of senior-level staff at the agency.

It drew a quick backlash from the oil industry’s main trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, which said limiting access to publicly owned energy resources would mean more foreign oil imports, lost jobs and fewer tax revenues.

But the impact could be blunted by companies that stockpiled drilling permits in the closing months of the Trump administration.

Officials approved almost 1,400 permits on federal lands, primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico, over a three-month period that included the election. Those permits, which remain valid, will allow companies to continue drilling for years, potentially undercutting Biden’s climate agenda.

Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about 10 percent of annual U.S. oil and gas production. Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons (500 metric tons) of greenhouse gases annually, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a 2018 study.

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