An oil-producing Native American tribe on Jan. 22 asked the U.S. Interior Department for an exemption from the recent temporary suspension of oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal and tribal lands, saying the move would hit its economy and sovereignty.


Tribes Exempt from Pause in US Federal Drilling Program, Official Says

The pushback from the Ute Indian Tribe reflects the financial strain some communities will face from a freeze of the government's fossil fuel leasing program. The new administration of President Joe Biden announced the move this week as part of a raft of measures intended to combat global climate change.

"The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members," Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee in Utah, said in a letter to acting U.S. Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega.

The tribe produces about 45,000 bbl/d of crude oil in the Uintah basin, along with about 900 million cubic feet per day of natural gas, according to a document it filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2017.

The secretarial order issued on Jan. 20—Biden's first day in office—suspended the authority of Interior Department offices to issue new fossil fuel permits and leases—a move that could be a first step in delivering on Biden’s campaign promise to ban all new federal drilling permits.

While some Native American tribes have been vocal opponents of fossil fuel development others are drilling the vast oil and coal reserves on their land. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation in North Dakota, for example, are also big producers of oil and gas.

MHA Nation Tribal Chairman Mark Fox did not comment on whether his tribe would also seek an exception but said: "We will do what is necessary to protect the treaty rights and trust interests of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation."

Biden's pick to lead the Interior Department, Deb Haaland, is poised to become the first Native American to head a cabinet agency once she is confirmed in Congress.

She has said she would prioritize climate change and conservation as secretary and has previously opposed drilling in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas. A spokesman for the Interior Department declined to comment.