BISMARCK — North Dakota is suing the U.S. government over President Joe Biden's executive order pausing the sale of oil and gas leases on federal lands, saying that the administration's moratorium could cost the state billions of dollars in the coming months.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed the civil complaint on Wednesday, July 7, in federal court. It asks a judge to force the U.S. Department of Interior to hold lease sales that were supposed to happen this year. It also asks the court to prohibit the federal government from canceling future sales.
The North Dakota lawsuit comes several weeks after a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked implementation of the leasing moratorium in a ruling on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 13 oil and gas producing states, including Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Alaska.
North Dakota declined to join that lawsuit, filing this week's complaint alone. Stenehjem said the state opted to challenge the executive order separately because of the unique impacts of the federal moratorium for North Dakota.
"I have taken this action to protect North Dakota’s economy, the jobs of our hardworking citizens, and North Dakota’s rights to control its own natural resources," Stenehjem said in a statement released Thursday.
In the newly filed lawsuit, Stenehjem noted that two North Dakota lease sales, one slated for March and one for June, were not held this year after Biden signed an executive order that paused new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and in offshore waters. The Jan. 27 executive order came as Biden opened his administration with several aggressive moves targeting climate change and the fossil fuel industry.
Though Stenehjem cited the Louisiana case as related to his filing, the complaint argues that unique leasing laws in North Dakota have resulted in $82 million in losses to the state from the two canceled auctions. According to the complaint, the moratorium blocked the leasing of more than 146,000 North Dakota acres during the March and June actions, even though fewer than 70,000 of those acres were federal lands. The leasing pause on federal lands effectively holds neighboring private- and state-owned lands "hostage," the complaint argues.
North Dakota also cited a similar complaint filed against the Interior Department in March by Wyoming. That lawsuit noted canceled sales for leases on federal lands, as well.
"This moratorium might make for a nice headline about fighting climate change, but the real consequences of the action are far from certain and far from uniformly environmentally friendly," the Wyoming lawsuit said. "Had the (Interior) Secretary (Debra Haaland) followed the law before instituting this moratorium, this administration and the public could have had an honest and fair debate about whether the speculative benefits of closing the public lands to leasing outweigh the substantial costs and devastating effects on Wyoming and the nation."
That case remains open.
North Dakota argued the Bureau of Land Management, an agency under the Interior Department’s umbrella, “does not have the discretionary authority to suspend regular lease sales in North Dakota without first complying with the notice and comment rulemaking process laid out by statute.”
Oil and gas produced from leases on federal and Native American reservations generate $93.65 million in royalties each year, according to the complaint. Almost 50% of bonuses, production royalties and other revenues North Dakota receives from oil and gas leasing come from federal lands, the complaint said.
Biden was not named as a defendant in North Dakota's lawsuit.