NEW ORLEANS — President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday proposed to sell up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Alaska over the next five years — in violation of the Democrat’s climate pledges but scaling back. from a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities, including in undeveloped areas.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland said fewer than 11 lease sales – or no lease sales at all – could take place, with a final decision only months away. New drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would be blocked, after being considered under Trump.
“President Biden and I have made it clear that we are committed to the transition to a clean energy economy. Today we offer the American people an opportunity to… provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing,” said Haaland, whose agency oversees drilling on federal lands and waters.
The proposal sparked immediate responses from both environmentalists — who accused Biden of betraying the climate cause — and oil industry officials and allies, who said it would do little to stem high energy prices. Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon Friday, a tax on commuters and a political albatross for Biden’s fellow Democrats heading to the midterm elections. That has led the White House to look for solutions, including Biden’s call last week to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon.
The Department of the Interior suspended lease sales in late January over climate concerns, but was forced to resume them by a U.S. district judge in Louisiana.
The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings on that decision when it canceled the last scheduled lease sales in the Gulf and Alaska during the previous offshore lease cycle. That previous five-year cycle, a program passed under former President Barack Obama, ended Thursday.
It will take a period of months before a new plan can be implemented. The oil industry and its allies say the delay could cause difficulties in planning new wells and potentially lead to reduced oil production.
There’s unlikely to be an offshore lease sale well into the next year, said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading lobbying group.
And, he said, government officials went out of their way to say there might be no lease sale at all.
“It is very important for the government to send a signal to global oil markets that the United States is serious about increasing its supply…for the long term,” he said, quoting a lengthy claim from officials. of industry and Republicans reiterated that uncertainty over oil supplies at high prices.
Biden has in recent weeks criticized oil producers and refiners for maximizing profits and making “more money than God”, rather than increasing production in response to higher prices as the economy recovers from the pandemic and feels the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement of the lease was a bitter disappointment to environmentalists and some Democrats who gathered around then-candidate Biden as he pledged to end new drilling in federal lands and waters.
The proposal comes a day after the government held its first onshore lease sale, raising $22 million at an auction that gives power companies drilling rights to approximately 110 square miles (285 square kilometers) in seven western states. The sale came despite the government’s own findings that burning oil and gas from the packages could cause billions of dollars in potential future climate damage.
“Our public lands and waters are already responsible for nearly a quarter of the country’s carbon pollution every year. It makes no sense to add new lease sales to that equation while the climate crisis is all around us,” said Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, D-Arizona.
Cynthia Sartou, executive director of the environmental organization Healthy Gulf, called the lease sale plan “a huge loss to Gulf residents, U.S. energy policy and the global climate.”
Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate energy committee, welcomed the proposal as an opportunity “to get our lease program back on track.”
“While Americans everywhere are suffering from record high gas prices and disruptions in the global oil market caused by (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine, the Interior Ministry has not held successful offshore lease sales since November 2020,” the lawmaker said. from West Virginia.
Under the Trump administration, Interior officials had proposed 47 sales, including 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 19 in Alaska and nine off the Atlantic coast, which were later withdrawn. Trump lost the 2020 election before finalizing the proposal.
The current form of holding sales throughout the Gulf was introduced under Obama because of the declining interest in offshore leases. Before that, there had been decades of regional sales.
Friday’s announcement opens a 90-day public comment period, with a final plan to be submitted 60 days before it goes into effect.
The government held an offshore lease auction in the Gulf of Mexico in November that brought in $192 million in bids. A court canceled that sale before the leases were issued.
Haaland has previously said the industry is “done” with the amount of drilling licenses that are in storage and at its disposal. She testified at a House hearing in April that the industry has about 9,000 permits that have been approved but are not being used.
Oil production has risen as the economy recovers from the coronavirus slowdown, but is still below pre-pandemic levels. Energy companies are reluctant to ramp up production further, citing a shortage of workers and restrictions from investors wary that today’s high prices won’t last.
Major oil companies reported rising profits in the first quarter and sent tens of billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders.
Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club said delaying offshore sales until next year is “an important step toward protecting communities and the climate, and we are urging the government to finalize a plan that addresses itself.” commits not to enter into new offshore drilling leases, period.”