A judge has ordered the U.S. government to allow oil and gas lease sales to resume on federal lands in North Dakota amid a legal battle over the Biden administration’s halting of the practice two years ago.
However, U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor denied the state's request that the Bureau of Land Management also be immediately forced to hold sales that were canceled in 2021 and 2022 amid the nationwide pause.
North Dakota contends canceled lease sales cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties. Traynor wrote in his 82-page order that "North Dakota has a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits" but that "given this preliminary stage of litigation and the incomplete administrative record, however, not all of North Dakota's requested relief is appropriate."
Attorney General Drew Wrigley hailed the ruling as a victory.
“BLM’s illegal cancellations were costing North Dakota’s citizens over $100 million in revenue a year and depriving the nation of much-needed access to oil and gas during these difficult times of high inflation and threats to our energy security," he said in a statement.
Gov. Doug Burgum also issued a statement, saying, “It should not take a court order to compel the Biden administration to obey the law, or to have the BLM do what it has been directed by Congress to do, but in this case it did, and we applaud Judge Traynor’s order which requires BLM to resume their lawfully required quarterly oil and gas lease sales.”
Justice Department Senior Attorney Michael Sawyer did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment. He previously said in court documents that a court order requiring lease sales before the lawsuit is decided would be a "rush to judgment." He also noted that the BLM is already on track to hold three lease sales in North Dakota this year.
Traynor said the federal government's assurances of lease sales in the second, third and fourth quarters "do not make North Dakota's threat of harm less imminent."
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