The Biden administration proposed its highly-anticipated offshore oil and gas leasing program for the next five years on Friday morning, laying out just three Gulf of Mexico lease sales through 2029.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) published the plan in a federal filing early Friday, laying out plans to lease oil and gas drilling rights across the Gulf of Mexico in 2025, 2027 and 2029. The plan, which is slated to be finalized by the end of the year, represents the lowest number of offshore lease sales ever proposed by the federal government and blocks leasing off the Alaskan coast, and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
“The release of the U.S. offshore leasing program, mandated by law and long overdue, is an utter failure for the country,” Erik Milito, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents both traditional and renewable offshore energy producers, said in a statement Friday.
“President Biden’s approach significantly curtails access to a critical national asset at a time when energy inflation is rampant, the likelihood of a national recession looms, and global efforts are intensifying to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” Milito said. “The White House simply ignores our energy realities in once again limiting U.S. energy production opportunities.”
Under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the federal government is required to issue plans every five years laying out prospective offshore oil and gas lease sales. The most recent plan, which was implemented in 2017, expired in June 2022.
On July 1, 2022, the DOI published the draft proposal for its replacement five-year plan, which laid out multiple options for leasing between 2024 and 2029. The plan included an option with no lease sales during the time span and a maximum option of 11 lease sales. Friday’s proposal represents a middle ground option that will likely receive pushback from both environmentalists and fossil fuel proponents.
The 2022 draft proposal also ruled out any lease sales in the Atlantic or Pacific, solely opening up the possibility of future Gulf of Mexico sales and one potential offshore Alaska sale, though that sale was ultimately axed from the proposal Friday.
“With global demand at record levels and continuing to rise, regressive policies like this serve to harm Americans of all walks of life,” Milito continued. “The dramatically low number of lease sales puts upward pressure on prices at the pump, destroys good-paying jobs that form the fabric of Gulf Coast communities, and relinquishes geopolitical advantages of energy production to countries like Russia, Iran, and China.”
The persistent delay in issuing a proposed plan represents a departure from precedent set by both Republican and Democratic administrations, which have historically finalized replacements immediately after previous plans expired. The option to hold no lease sales over the course of five years also represented an unprecedented departure.
The most recent two plans, both formulated under the Obama administration, included more than 10 offshore oil and gas lease sales each. The Trump administration sought to hold a total of 47 lease sales across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska’s coasts between 2022 and 2027.
“At a time when inflation runs rampant across the country, the Biden administration is choosing failed energy policies that are adding to the pain Americans are feeling at the pump,” American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers said in a statement.
“This restrictive offshore leasing program is the latest tactic in a coordinated strategy to reduce energy production, ultimately weakening America’s energy dominance, limiting consumers access to affordable reliable energy and compromising our ability to lead on the global stage. For decades, we’ve strived for energy security and this administration keeps trying to give it away.”
While the proposed number of lease sales is far lower than the possible 11 sales, it is still more than climate activist organizations had called for. Groups led Center for Biological Diversity had argued the administration was legally able to move ahead with zero lease sales in the five-year plan.
“President Biden campaigned on climate leadership, but he seems poised to let us down at the worst possible moment,” Brady Bradshaw, the senior oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said after the DOI issued its July 2022 draft proposal. The reckless approval of yet more offshore drilling would mean more oil spills, more dead wildlife and more polluted communities. We need a five-year plan with no new leases.”
In May 2022, the DOI canceled the three remaining lease sales scheduled under the current plan, one of which spanned more than a million acres in the Cook Inlet off the coast of Alaska. However, the Inflation Reduction Act passed months later mandated that the administration reverse that decision and hold the sales.
The Inflation Reduction Act further tethers new offshore wind energy leases to new oil and gas leases, meaning the former could be threatened without consistent fossil fuel leasing. That provision likely forced the Biden administration to ultimately move forward with some lease sales in the proposal Friday.
The only remaining sale, Lease Sale 261, was set for this week, but was delayed due to ongoing litigation which was initiated after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management attempted to issue restrictions on leases purchased and reduce the amount of acreage available for lease. The sale is expected to span millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition, the Biden administration issued a proposal earlier this month blocking off 2.8 million of acres in the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska, from oil and gas leasing.
“With climate change warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, we must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said on Sept. 6. “President Biden is delivering on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history.”