Biden Administration Offers an Offshore Drilling Plan. Likely Backers: Very Few.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has announced its plan for oil and gas drilling off the United States coast, closing the possibility of new leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, but possible new leases in both the Gulf of Mexico as in Cook Inlet in Alaska.
By law, the Department of the Interior is required to issue a plan every five years for new oil and gas leases in federal waters. This new one, which determines where the government can sell oil and gas leases from 2022 to 2027, comes at a difficult time for President Biden.
He wants to scale back drilling to fight climate change as gas prices soar, which could lead his Republican critics to blame his climate policy for hurting the pump. In fact, most energy experts say the rise in oil prices is the result of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has clouded global markets. It takes years between when a drilling lease is issued and when gasoline flows to gas stations.
The proposed five-year plan proposes several options, including no lease sales at all. Another option opens up 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 1, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transitioning to a clean energy economy,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today we offer an opportunity for the American people to reflect and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. It is now time for the public to weigh in on our future.”
With the release of the plan, the Biden administration threatens to anger both the fossil fuel industry and environmental advocates.
Oil industry leaders, who argue that more drilling is needed in the United States to lower gas prices, have accused President Biden of limiting supply to the global market.
But as carbon emissions from oil, gas and coal rise and the climate crisis intensify, environmentalists argue that Mr. Biden should ban new drilling.
“The Biden administration had an opportunity to meet climate change and end new offshore oil leases,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation affairs 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 should stop approving new coal mines and oil and gas fields to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. That’s the threshold above which the likelihood of catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, floods and widespread extinctions increases significantly. The earth has warmed on average 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden 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 that policy. The board is appealing the decision.
The government’s first and only offshore drilling auction, covering millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico, was quashed by another judge who said the government hadn’t considered the impacts of climate change thoroughly enough. The administration has not appealed that ruling.
The five-year plan is required under the Outer Continental Shelf Act. The current blueprint, finalized under President Barack Obama, expired Thursday. President Donald J. Trump proposed opening virtually all waters in the United States to drilling, but that plan met strong opposition from Republicans in Florida who were concerned about the impact on tourism and it was never finalized.
Experts have said Mr Biden’s earliest plan could be finalized by the end of this year. The government will post public comments on the plan for 90 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, most likely early next week.
Interior Department officials noted that Mr. Trump’s plan proposed 47 leases in every coastal area of the country, including sites where drilling was never performed. Biden’s plan “significantly narrowed the area under consideration for rental to the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet, where there is existing manufacturing and infrastructure,” officials said in a statement.
The agency also noted that areas of potential lease sale in the proposed plan will not necessarily appear in the final version. But areas that are not included, such as the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters, will not appear in the final metric.
Mr Biden’s draft plan is likely to have political ramifications. Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who holds the majority in the evenly divided Senate, has urged the president to offer more drilling rights in the Gulf to help alleviate high energy prices.
On Friday, Mr Manchin said in a statement that he was disappointed that the Biden administration had included a no-lease option in the plan.
“Our leasing programs are a critical part of US energy security,” said Mr. Manchin. “I hope the government will eventually give the green light to a plan that will expand domestic energy production.”
Mary Durbin, president of the Energy Institute at the United States Chamber of Commerce, called the plan “another blow to consumers and businesses suffering from high energy prices and inflation.”
But Representative Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, said he was alarmed by the idea of new leases, noting that oil and gas companies have leased 8 million acres of offshore waters. that have not been developed.
The new drilling plan was so sensitive that Biden’s closest associates led internal negotiations about whether and where future drilling could be allowed.
Biden has pledged to cut United States emissions by about 50 percent this decade, but is running out of options to tackle climate change. Legislation to allow for significant emissions reductions has stalled, and on Thursday the Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce climate pollution from power plants.