The Biden administration’s latest offshore oil and gas drilling plan drew swift pushback from environmentalists and Democratic allies in Congress over its proposals for potential new drilling sites and from at least one industry group for a "lack of clear signals" to energy markets.
In a proposal issued Friday evening, the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management sealed off the possibility of new leases in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But it approved the option of 11 potential new lease sales — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, south of Anchorage.
Interior is required by law to issue five-year plans for offshore oil and gas development. The current plan expires this year, and the new plan would cover years 2023 through 2028.
The proposal came a day after the Supreme Court ruled against the Biden administration in limiting its options to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, and as the White House floats ideas to lower gasoline prices while keeping U.S. targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in range.
The administration has set a goal of cutting such emissions in half, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030, and zero them out by 2050.
President Joe Biden proposed a slate of options in late June he said could lower gasoline prices by as much as $1 per gallon.
Interior’s proposed plan is not final and will go through a public comment period. It suggests several options for the number of lease sales to hold for the period, including none at all.
“The proposed plan puts forward several options from no lease sales up to 11 lease sales over the next five years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Like the current program finalized in 2016, it removes from consideration the federal waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts while inviting public comment on 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet off south-central Alaska.”
Pointing to comments Biden made while running for president in 2020, the ocean protection group Oceana said the president was at risk of breaking his pledge.
"No more drilling on federal lands,” Biden said at a primary campaign debate. “No more drilling, including offshore.”
Diane Hoskins, Oceana campaign director, said the possibility of the administration allowing drilling was disappointing.
“New leases are incompatible with efforts to address the climate crisis and won’t help lower gas prices,” Hoskins said. “We are counting on President Biden to keep his promise and finalize a plan with no new oil and gas lease sales.”
The International Energy Agency has said countries must stop approving new projects for fossil fuel sources — coal, oil and gas — to thwart the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold past which scientists say warming becomes catastrophic.
Earth has already warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1800s.
The administration has offered one offshore drilling lease sale, in the Gulf of Mexico. But that sale was overturned in federal court after a judge said Interior had not adequately considered the climate change implications of the auction.
“Now more than ever we need the administration to deliver energy policy that will promote affordability of energy for Americans and advance our national security interests,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents oil and gas companies. “This proposed leasing plan is just one step in the process, and it is imperative that the administration act swiftly to finalize and implement the program as proposed, without reduced acreage.”
Marty Durbin, president of the Global Energy Institute, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobby for large businesses, said Interior’s proposal is muddled.
“Reliable, affordable energy requires long-term planning, a governmentwide approach and clear signals to the market,” Durbin said. “This proposal provides none of that.”
It can take years for oil to emerge from a drilling site before it is refined, transported and sold to a driver at a gasoline station.
House Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said he hoped the administration would not offer any lease sales in the upcoming five-year window.
“Holding any new offshore oil and gas lease sales over the next five years is a lose-lose for Americans. It will do nothing to help lower prices at the pump, and it will make our emissions goals virtually impossible to achieve,” Grijalva said. “Adding any new lease sales to that equation while the climate crisis is unfolding all around us is nonsensical.”
Rep. Jared Huffman of California and other Democrats noted the proposal would reduce the area of federal waters available for leasing from the Trump administration plan. Before pushback from coastal Republicans, the Trump plan would have allowed drilling in virtually every stretch of U.S. water. Huffman declared the Biden plan “is still a step in the wrong direction.”
Huffman said that “adding new leases is outlandish and will further inhibit our ability to reach the climate goals necessary to preserve an inhabitable planet. Hopefully, BOEM will wake up to this reality and ultimately release their final plan without any of these ill-advised leases.”