WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has announced its plan to oil and gas drilling off the coast of the United States, closing the possibility of new leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, but potentially allowing new lease sales in both the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet in Alaska.
By law, the Department of the Interior is required to publish a plan for new oil and gas leases in federal waters every five years. This new one, which establishes where the government can sell oil and gas leases from 2022 to 2027, comes at a difficult time for President Biden.
He wants to cut drilling to fight climate change as gas prices rise, allowing his Republican critics to blame his climate policies for the pain at the pump. In fact, according to most energy experts, the spike in oil prices is the result of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which muddied global markets. Years pass between the time a drilling lease is issued and the time gasoline is delivered to service stations.
The proposed five-year plan offers several options, including no leasehold at all. Another option allows 10 potential sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet off south-central Alaska. The eastern Gulf of Mexico has been closed to drilling since 1995.
“From day one, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to moving to a clean energy economy,” Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, said in a statement. “Today we offered the American people the opportunity to review and provide their input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. Now is the time for the public to have their say on our future. »
With the release of the plan, the Biden administration risks angering both the fossil fuel industry and environmental advocates.
Oil industry executives, who argue that more drilling in the United States is needed to drive down gas prices, have accused President Biden of limiting supply to the global market.
Yet with carbon emissions from oil, gas and coal rising and intensifying the climate crisis, environmental activists argue Mr Biden must ban further drilling.
“The Biden administration had the opportunity to meet the climate moment and end new offshore oil leases,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice, an environmental organization. He called the new plan’s option to include lease sales “a failure of climate leadership”.
The International Energy Agency has said countries must stop approving new coal mines and new oil and gas fields to keep global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared at pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold beyond which the likelihood of catastrophic heat waves, droughts, floods and widespread extinctions increases dramatically. The Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden has pledged to end new drilling on public lands and in federal waters. Shortly after taking office, he imposed a temporary moratorium on new leases, but a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the policy. The administration is appealing the decision.
The administration’s first and only offshore drilling auction, for millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico, was struck down by another judge who said the government failed to give sufficient consideration the impacts of climate change. The administration did not appeal this decision.
The five-year plan is required under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The current plan, finalized under President Barack Obama, expired on Thursday. President Donald J. Trump has proposed opening virtually all U.S. waters to drilling, but that plan has faced strong opposition from Republicans in Florida concerned about the impact on tourism and it has not never been finalized.
Experts have said Mr Biden’s first plan could be finalized by the end of this year. The administration will collect public comment on the plan for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, likely early next week.
Interior Department officials noted that Mr. Trump’s plan proposed 47 lease sales in all coastal areas of the country, including places that had never been drilled. The Biden plan “dramatically reduced the area considered for leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet, where there is existing production and infrastructure,” officials said in a statement.
The agency also noted that areas of potential lease sales in the proposed plan are not necessarily in the final version. But areas not included – such as Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters – will not appear in the final measurement.
Mr. Biden’s draft plan will likely have political ramifications. Sen. Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who holds the swing vote in the equally divided Senate, has urged the president to offer more drilling rights in the Gulf to help mitigate high energy prices.
On Friday, Mr. Manchin said in a statement that he was disappointed the Biden administration included a no-lease option in the plan.
“Our leasing programs are a critical component of American energy security,” Mr. Manchin said. “I hope the administration finally greenlights a plan that will increase national energy production.”
Mary Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute, called the plan “another punch in the gut for consumers and businesses suffering from high energy prices and of inflation”.
But Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, said he was troubled by the idea of new leases, noting that oil and gas companies have leased 8 million acres. offshore waters that have not been developed.
The new drilling plan was so sensitive that Mr. Biden’s closest aides conducted internal negotiations to determine if and where future drilling might be permitted.
Mr Biden has pledged to cut US emissions by about 50% this decade, but he is running out of options to tackle climate change. Legislation to enable deep emissions cuts has stalled and on Thursday the Supreme Court restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce climate pollution from power plants.