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IS terror group claims responsibility for twin suicide blasts in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (TRTWorld): The Daesh terror group has claimed responsibility for twin suicide blasts on a commercial district in Baghdad that killed more than 32 people and left 110 wounded.

One Daesh suicide bomber targeted a group of shoppers and day labourers in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, and a second bomber detonated his explosives when a crowd gathered to help the wounded.

According to Iraqi state media, this was the deadliest attack in the city since January 2018.

According to an interior ministry statement, the first suicide bomber rushed into the market, claiming to feel sick.

Once a crowd of people had gathered around him, he detonated his explosives.

After the first blast went off, people began tending to victims and the wounded. A second attacker then struck and detonated his device, the ministry said.

Medical sources told AFP they feared the death toll could be twice as high as officially announced.

After midnight, Daesh posted a claim of responsibility for the attack on its online propaganda channels.

After years of deadly sectarian violence, suicide bombings have become relatively rare in the capital.

The last such attack took place in June 2019 and left several people dead.

In January 2018, a suicide bombing in Tayaran Square killed more than 30 people, just a few months before the last parliamentary election.

Elections in Iraq are typically preceded by escalating violence, including bombings and assassinations.

Fresh elections

Iraq is gearing up for a new general election this year, which Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhemi originally set for June, nearly a year ahead of schedule, in response to widespread protests in 2019.

But authorities are in talks to reschedule them for October in order to give electoral authorities more time to register voters and new parties.

Iraq declared Daesh defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign to retake the one-third of the country that had been seized by the militants.

But the group’s sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low casualty attacks.

Still, the US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq’s campaign against Daesh has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi troops.

The United States, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq, down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Turkey condemns attack

Turkey condemned the deadly attack, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

“We strongly condemn this heinous attack, and on this occasion, we emphasise once again that we stand by our friend and neighbour Iraq in the fight against terrorism. May God’s mercy descend upon those who lost their lives and a speedy recovery to the wounded. We extended our condolences to the people and the government of Iraq.”

Pope deplores the attack

Pope Francis, who hopes to visit Iraq in March, said he was “deeply saddened” by the “senseless” suicide bombing in Baghdad.

“In deploring this senseless act of brutality, he prays for the deceased victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel in attendance,” the Vatican said in a statement sent to Iraqi President Barham Saleh in the pope’s name.

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Apex court disposes of Hamza Shehbaz’s bail plea

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has disposed of a bail plea filed by Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz after the mover withdrew the petition.

A three-judge bench of the apex court led by Justice Musheer Alam announced the decision on Friday.

Talking to newsmen outside the Supreme Court, PML-N leader Atta Tarrar said Hamza Shehbaz has been in prison for 19 months.

“It’s mentioned in the NAB report presented in the court that the case against Hamza may take another 10 or 12 months. The apex court has remanded the case to the High Court,” he added. Attar Tarrar remarked “Why a person is being kept in prison when he is fully cooperating with the court. The NAB investigations always collapse in the end.”

He said in the high court they will raise the issue of keeping a person in detention for a long time. “Only five of the 110 witnesses have so far been cross-examined. Hamza’s name is on the ECL.

We will raise in the high court the issue of violation of human rights keeping in view the unnecessary detention,” he added. He expressed the hope that they will get bail for Hamza Shehbaz from the high court.

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Opposition rejects Justice Azmat-led Inquiry Committee on Broadsheet

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Two main opposition parties have rejected the formation of the Inquiry Committee on Broadsheet led by Justice (retd) Sheikh Azmat Saeed.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Friday trashed the inquiry committee set up by the government on the revelations made by Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi.

PPP Senator Nayyar Hussain Bukhari said probing the Broadsheet issue amounted to befooling people. He was of the view that the appointment of retired Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed as the committee head was proof of the government’s bad intentions.

“Making him the committee head means that the government wants to put all blame of the Broadsheet issue on the preceding governments,” he apprehended and said Justice (r) Azmat Saeed had not only been NAB’s prosecutor but is also a member of Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital’s Board of Governors (BoG).

Bukhari said since Broadsheet was not an ordinary case, but a serious one, therefore PPP wanted a transparent inquiry into it.

Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said the appointment of Justice Azmat Saeed proved that Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to protect the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and himself.

In a tweet, Ahsan Iqbal said “Azmat Saeed was also on NAB panel when Broadsheet deal was done under former president Pervez Musharraf.”

Talking to newsmen outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on Friday, another PML-N leader Atta Tarrar said “Justice Azmat Saeed does not have the right to probe the Broadsheet issue because he was the NAB prosecutor when the Bureau struck a deal with the Broadsheet.” Tarrar said the PML-N’s policy regarding Broadsheet is very clear. “The conflict of interests in quite visible in the Broadsheet case,” he added.

Senior anchorperson Hamid Mir has questioned the logic of appointing Justice(r) Sheikh Azmat Saeed as head of the inquiry committee formed on Broadsheet issue.

In his tweet on Friday, he said when Justice (r) Saeed was a member of Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital’s Board of Governors (BoG), he was astonished as to why he, a retired Supreme Court judge, did not see conflict of interests in the case. “Why on earth he gave his consent to become the head of a probe committee?” he questioned.

The federal government on Thursday had appointed Justice (r) Sheikh Azmat Saeed as Head of Inquiry Committee formed to probe the Broadsheet matter. This was shared by the Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz in a tweet.

Shibli Faraz said the government had constituted a committee that will answer the inquiry questions within 45 days.

Reportedly, the prime minister had expressed his intention to constitute a body to investigate the much-hyped Broadsheet matter two days ago.

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Indian author exposes India-ISIS nexus to create instability in Pakistan by sabotaging Afghan peace

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Another great double game of Indian government to destroy the regional peace with its links with Daesh has been exposed.

As per the revelations made in the book of British-Indian author Avinash Paliwal ‘My Enemy’s Enemy’, it has been clearly mentioned that India is holding a proxy war to create instability in Pakistan by carrying out terrorism activities with Afghanistan at western border.

The mastermind of attack on Sikhs Gurdwara in Kabul was also turned out to be an Indian citizen, the book stated.

Paliwal further wrote India is playing the Baloch and Pashtun cards in Pakistan and that Indian intelligence tried to cultivate the Afghan Taliban but failed.

The statements of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy have also been compiled in the book while the author has also mentioned about the the meeting of Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Earlier, EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based disinformation watchdog, had exposed a forum that promote India’s diplomatic interests to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with content critical of Pakistan.

After the shocking report of the disinformation watchdog, board of members of the fake forum South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) had resigned following increasing pressure and calls for stepping down.

According to EU DisinfoLab, South Asia Democratic Forum was ambiguously created in 2011 by the Srivastava group. The news outlets were managed by Indian stakeholders, with ties to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group.

It is pertinent to mention here that in November, 2020, the non-governmental group, after carrying out investigation, in its initial findings had uncovered a nexus of 265 fake media outlets across 65 countries to influence the EU and the UN with content critical of Pakistan.

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Congress demands inquiry into Arnab Whatsapp leaks

F.P. Report

MUMBAI: Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Friday has demanded to hold serious inquiry into the leaked Watsapp chats of controversial Indian journalist and Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami.

Tharoor said, “The leaked WhatsApp chats reveal three reprehensible things requiring serious inquiry: leaking of military secrets to a TV channel for its commercial purposes; a “nationalist” gloating over the death of 40 soldiers as an “attack we have won like crazy”, and a fraudulent manipulation of TRPs.”

“But if the Government won t conduct such an inquiry (& we all expect it won t, given the evidence of its complicity in the betrayals revealed), who will?” he asked.

The reaction came after leaked chats of Goswami revealed that Pulwama attack was a false flag operation, in which India killed its own troops and tried to pin the blame on Pakistan to gain sympathy, and in turn, votes, for the 2019 elections.

Arnab Goswami was happy at the Pulwama attack and knew about the Balakot incursion beforehand.

Leaked Whatsapp chats of the Indian journalist with Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta have revealed that Arnab told the CEO about the attack three days before it took place.

Arnab Goswami had informed about the Indian plan on February 23, 2019 and the infiltration attempt took place on February 26, after which the Pakistan Air Force shot down the Indian plane.

The Indian journalist was also found to be joyous over the death of 40 Indian soldiers in the Pulwama attack. “This attack we have won like crazy”, he stated morbidly.

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Sri Lanka’s Chandimal opt to bat first in second England Test

GALLE (AFP): Sri Lanka’s stand-in-skipper Dinesh Chandimal won the toss and elected to bat in the second Test against England on Friday.

The hosts, who trail the two-Test series 1-0, have made three changes to their starting line-up with all-rounder Ramesh Mendis set to make his international debut in Galle.

Fit-again paceman Suranga Lakmal returns while batsman Oshada Fernando is expected to bat at number three in place of injured captain Dimuth Karunaratne.

“We had some discussion after the first game…when the situation comes, we have to execute,” Chandimal said.

England had already revealed their team on Thursday with James Anderson coming in for fellow paceman Stuart Broad as the only change from their opening win.

“At least we’ve got some good experience to call upon,” skipper Joe Root said. “Hopefully we can transfer that to this week.”

Teams

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella, Ramesh Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, Asitha Fernando

England: Joe Root (capt), Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Dan Lawrence, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Dominic Bess, Jack Leach, Mark Wood, James Anderson

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FM Qureshi urges Joe Biden to stick to Afghan troop pullout

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that his country has hopes for greater engagement with the new United States government and called on Joe Biden to follow up on the ongoing Afghan peace process and US troops withdrawal from the country.

“I think they [Biden administration] should realise there is an opportunity in Afghanistan and they should persevere with what was initiated and not reverse things,” Qureshi told Al Jazeera in an interview. “Push them forward, because, after a long time, we have started moving in the right direction.”

Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, against whom the US has fought an almost 20-year war, are continuing in the Qatari capital Doha but progress remains slow.

There has been an increase in violence in recent weeks, with a surge in targeted attacks and bombings across the country for which the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban. Pakistan facilitated the intra-Afghan talks and the US-Taliban dialogue and has now called for the US to stick to the agreements.  

Former US President Donald Trump accelerated a timeline for troop withdrawal agreed with the Taliban in February last year, as the Biden administration comes in with 2,500 US soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.

Under last year’s historic deal, all US troops are due to leave Afghanistan by April, but the Pentagon recently hinted it could delay that if violence does not abate. “We are concerned because we feel violence can vitiate the climate,” Qureshi added.

“Pakistan has done a lot, we have really bent backwards to create an environment to facilitate the peace process,” he said, while blaming “spoilers” for the violence, identifying them as internal Afghan players “who have benefited from the war economy” and alleging that “there are elements from outside who do not share our vision, which is a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan.”

“It is a shared responsibility to begin with but the ultimate responsibility is with the Afghan leadership. It’s their country, it’s their future.”

Under former US President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president, US-Pakistan relations were marked by bitter recriminations about the war in Afghanistan and the frequent US accusations of Pakistan supporting the Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani network.

In 2018, Trump slashed security assistance to Pakistan by $1.1 billion over the same allegations, accusing Islamabad of having given the US “nothing but lies and deceit”.

Relations began to warm as the Trump administration took up direct negotiations with the Taliban – carried out mainly by the US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad – in a process facilitated by Pakistan.

“They should be supportive of what, I feel, is a convergence of interests,” Qureshi said and added “Our approach, thinking, objectives and shared visions are very much in line with the priorities of the new administration. And that convergence can be built further.” At a US Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s Secretary of Defence nominee Lloyd Austin termed Pakistan “an essential partner” to peace in Afghanistan.

China relation Qureshi also called on the US not to view Pakistan’s close ties with China – an economic and political rival to the US – as a “zero-sum game”.

“They have to understand that our relationship with China is not a zero-sum game for them,” he said, making note of China’s $60 billion investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

“They [the US] should come, compete and invest.” He added that Pakistan was willing to act as a mediator between China and the US, a role it played in 1972 when it facilitated talks to set up an historic visit to Beijing by then-President Richard Nixon.

“Pakistan traditionally has had the opportunity and has built bridges between the two. In this environment, where there is a change … Pakistan can be a bridge-builder.”

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Milan and Inter continue duel for top spot, Roma set for Spezia rematch

MILAN (AFP): AC Milan and Inter Milan resume their duel for the Serie A summit on Saturday days before they face off in their Italian Cup quarter-final clash at the San Siro.

Leaders Milan are three points ahead of Inter before the weekend’s 19th round of games which marks the half-way point of the season.

Stefano Pioli’s Milan face a tricky task at home to sixth-placed Atalanta, despite the Bergamo side losing momentum in recent games in draws with Genoa and Udinese.

Inter meanwhile travel to struggling Udinese boosted by their 2-0 win over champions Juventus last weekend at the San Siro.

“For us it’ll be a very important match as we’re fighting teams like Juve, Napoli, Roma and Lazio,” said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini of their Champions League rivals.

“The challenge against the ‘Rossoneri’ will serve to measure where we are before the Champions League knockout rounds.”

Forward Rafael Leao returns from suspension for Milan with newly-signed Mario Mandzukic insisting he’s “good to go” despite being without a club since leaving Qatar’s Al-Duhail in July.

Forward Ante Rebic and midfielder Rade Krunic have recovered from coronavirus infections, while defender Theo Hernandez has got the all-clear after a ‘false positive’.

But Milan have only won once in their last 10 Serie A games against Atalanta, with their last home victory against the Bergamo side in January 2014.

By contrast Inter have won nine of their last 11 league games against Udinese, and not conceded a goal in their last five.

“(The win over Juventus) was an important step in terms of mentality,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte.

“But we’re just at the beginning and I want them to back this up.”

Roma deja vu

Roma, who sit nine points behind Milan in fourth, are set for a rematch with Spezia days after the promoted side dumped them out of the Italian Cup.

Pressure is mounting on coach Paulo Fonseca after a chaotic extra-time defeat in which they finished with nine men and fielded six substitutes rather than the five allowed.

Roma were also handed a 3-0 defeat earlier this season against Hellas Verona in Serie A for fielding an ineligible player.

Roma also lost to city rivals Lazio in the league last weekend, which saw the capital side miss the chance to move ahead of Napoli into third place.

Champions Juventus are a further point back in fifth and will be looking to close the gap on the leaders after their morale-boosting Italian Super Cup success over Napoli when they host 12th-placed Bologna.

On Friday, struggling Torino head to mid-table outfit Benevento guided by new coach Davide Nicola, who is tasked with saving the ‘Granata’ from the drop as he did with in previous jobs at Crotone and Genoa.

European rivals Lazio and Sassuolo face off in Rome on Sunday.

One to watch: Lorenzo Insigne

Napoli skipper Insigne has the chance to score his 100th goal for the club against Hellas Verona, days after sending a penalty wide in their Italian Super Cup defeat by Juventus.

Napoli are third after last weekend’s 6-0 hammering of Fiorentina when 29-year-old Insigne scored twice to bring his league tally to nine this campaign and set up Hirving Lozano’s first-half strike with an outstanding pass following deft footwork.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side are nine points behind Milan as they chase a first Scudetto since 1990.

Key stats

45 – Inter’s goals in 18 games

16 – Points between Roma and Spezia

15 – Top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally

8 – Antonio Conte has won eight of his nine matches against Udinese as a coach

2 – Torino’s wins this season

1 – Udinese’s points in their last seven home games against Inter

Fixtures (GMT)

Friday

Benevento v Torino (1945)

Saturday

Roma v Spezia (1400), AC Milan v Atalanta, Udinese v Inter Milan (both 1700), Fiorentina v Crotone (1945)

Sunday

Juventus v Bologna (1130), Hellas Verona v Napoli, Genoa v Cagliari (both 1400), Lazio v Sassuolo (1700), Parma v Sampdoria (1945)

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LeBron James scores 34 as Lakers win eighth straight on the road

LOS ANGELES (AFP): LeBron James scored a season-high 34 points as the Los Angeles Lakers won their eighth straight road game to start the season with a 113-106 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The victory opened a seven game road trip for the first-place Lakers, who are hoping this is the beginning of another win streak. They had a five-game winning streak snapped in their most recent outing, a 115-113 loss to Golden State.

James made a clutch three pointer and capped his night with an emphatic double clutch slam dunk as the Lakers improved to a NBA best 12-4 on the season after Thursday’s gritty performance at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 23 points and Anthony Davis finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in the win. Caldwell-Pope sank seven-of-10 threes.

Going on a seven-game road trip might be a daunting task for some teams but not the Lakers, who have excelled away from Staples Center arena this season by compiling a franchise best 8-0 start on the road.

“We still have a lot to improve on,” said Caldwell-Pope. “It is coming along. We are just playing for each other.”

The Lakers made 19-of-37 from beyond the arc and bottled up Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Antetokounmpo had a career high nine turnovers.

Jrue Holiday tallied 22 points and Khris Middleton scored 20 for the Bucks, who lost just their second game of the season at home and have lost two straight for the first time this season.

The Lakers started the fourth with a five point lead, 86-81, but quickly extended that to 11 points. The Bucks took advantage of some sloppy Laker defence to go on a 9-0 run to close the gap to 98-96 with three minutes to go.

But James and Alex Caruso each drained key three pointers in the final two minutes. James put the game away in style by driving hard to the basket and dunking it with 15 seconds remaining in the fourth.

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Big U.S. oil drillers have federal permits to mute effect of any Biden ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters): U.S. President Joe Biden’s promised ban on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands would take years to shut off production from top shale drillers because they already have stockpiled permits, according to Reuters interviews with executives.

But smaller independent oil drillers without the resources of big corporations were more worried about Biden’s vow to toughen regulations and stop issuing new permits on federal lands, part of his sweeping plan to combat climate change and bring the economy to net zero emissions by 2050.

Federal lands are the source of about 10% of U.S. oil and gas supply. Fossil fuels produced on federally managed lands and waters contribute nearly 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates, making them an easy target for the administration’s climate agenda.

Biden’s pledge would reverse former President Donald Trump’s efforts to maximize drilling and mining on federal property. In an order dated Wednesday, the Biden administration suspended oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands for 60 days while it reviews the legal and policy implications of the mineral leasing program. But a freeze or ban will not end production in those areas overnight.

The seven companies that control half the federal supply onshore in the Lower 48 states have leases and permits in hand that could last years.

“We have always been very confident that we will continue to develop and drill on federal acreage,” said David Hager, executive chairman of Devon Energy Corp, the biggest oil producer on onshore federal land in the Lower 48 states. “It’s embedded into the rights we have in the leases and we’re doing it the right way.”

He said he expected the company’s federal lands permits would last at least four years.

Other top producers on federal land include EOG Resources Inc, ExxonMobil Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp, ConocoPhillips, and Mewbourne Oil Company.

Representatives at these companies did not comment for this article. But several have issued public statements saying they have solid stockpiles of federal permits and an ability to meet tougher emissions regulations expected under Biden. They have also said they can quickly shift drilling to state or private acreage once federal permits dry up.

EOG has said it has at least four years of federal permits. “When it comes to access to federal lands, that’s one of the things we’re not really worried about in our business. We have a lot of potential outside of federal land, too,” Chief Operating Officer Billy Helms said during an investor conference last year.

Occidental said last year it had well over 200 federal drilling permits in hand and had requested another roughly 200 permits on New Mexico acreage, where some of the richest reserves lie beneath federally owned property.

Ameredev II, which produces about 10,000 barrels of oil per day in New Mexico’s Permian, also has federal drilling permits to last at least four years.

“We’re trying to maximize our value against an uncertain range of possibilities,” said CEO Parker Reese.

Energy consultancy Rystad said it saw stockpiling of federal lands drilling permits in the run-up to the November presidential election, with federal permit requests rising to a 31% share of all permit requests in the major U.S. oilfields from 18% in 2019.

Biden’s team did not respond to several requests for comment.

Most onshore federal drilling happens in Western states like New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, which get a share of extraction royalties and depend on that revenue.

As Biden takes office, U.S. shale drilling industry has already declined sharply due to weak prices.

Total U.S. shale output is expected to fall to 7.5 million barrels per day in February, the U.S. Energy Department said on Tuesday, which would be the lowest since June 2020.

Shale drilling accounts for roughly two-thirds of U.S. crude oil production, but output is expected to decline throughout 2021 as producers rein in spending.

‘EXISTENTIAL THREAT’

A large swathe of the industry is made up of smaller firms that lack the deep pockets to squirrel away permits, get a jumpstart on installing new emissions control technologies or take their business elsewhere.

“The impact on the independent oilman is a heck of a lot greater than it is on Big Oil,” said Don Law, owner of Denver-based Prima Exploration Inc, which produces about half of its 1,000 barrels of oil a day on federal lands, mainly in Wyoming, New Mexico and North Dakota.

Law called Biden’s promised policy “an existential threat” unlike any he has encountered in 40 years in the oil business, echoing the rhetoric used by some climate activists about the threat posed by global warming.

Many smaller drilling firms operate in a single state or basin, according to trade group Western Energy Alliance, and would struggle to pack up and leave.

“I actually live here,” said Mark Murphy, a third-generation oilman in New Mexico. His company, Strata Production Co, has 15 employees and operates 47 wells, mostly on federal acreage.

Western Energy Alliance, the oil and gas industry trade group most focused on public lands policy, has pledged to fight any efforts to impose a leasing ban in court. States that rely heavily on revenues from federal oil and gas drilling are also ramping up opposition.

Last month Wyoming officials issued a study that said a ban would cost eight Western states $8.1 billion in tax revenue and $34.1 billion in investment in the next five years. The state’s governor, Mark Gordon, called the predictions “devastating.”

New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in late 2019 that she would seek a waiver from any drilling ban imposed by a future administration. But she has not discussed the issue publicly since, and her office did not respond to several requests for comment.