The Biden administration has recently unveiled a plan to sell up to three offshore oil and gas leases over the next five years, drawing criticism from climate advocates. The plan, which is set to govern potential sales through late 2028, is seen as a significant move with implications for the environment and the energy industry.
This highly anticipated plan, released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is a part of the Interior Department. Notably, the plan does not include any auctions for the next year, marking the lowest number of lease sales since the program’s inception in 1980. While this might appear as a reduction in offshore drilling activities, it’s essential to examine the finer details.
All three proposed sales are focused on the Gulf of Mexico, scheduled for 2025, 2027, and 2029, with no lease sales planned for Alaska. The Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, states that this plan aligns with the administration’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. It also aims to support the growth of the offshore wind industry and mitigate potential environmental damage to coastal communities.
However, critics argue that the plan falls short of addressing the climate crisis effectively. Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of the climate advocacy group Food and Water Watch, expresses disappointment, stating that the plan contradicts President Biden’s acknowledgment of climate change as an existential threat.
One crucial factor affecting this plan is the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act provision, which blocks the Interior Department from issuing new offshore wind leases unless it has held an oil lease sale on at least 60 million acres in the prior year. This provision, crafted by Senator Joe Manchin, has raised concerns about political dealmaking that could hamper the transition to cleaner energy sources.
The Department of Interior defends the plan, stating that it is in line with the administration’s climate goals. They emphasize the importance of offshore wind adoption to meet these goals and plan to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by the end of the decade.
However, environmental law organization Earthjustice suggests that, even under the strictest interpretation of the Inflation Reduction Act, the agency would only need to include one additional oil-and-gas lease sale to allow for all planned federal offshore wind leasing. This raises questions about the need for multiple lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s important to note that the United States is a significant contributor to global oil and gas production expansion, with more than a third of the planned increase by 2050. Even without these lease sales, U.S. oil production is projected to reach an all-time high, maintaining its position as the top global crude oil producer.
Environmental justice advocates in the Gulf, where offshore drilling is a primary source of oil and gas, express their opposition to the plan. They argue that their communities should not be sacrificed for the sake of profits generated by the petrochemical industry.
The release of this plan has also raised concerns about its impact on marine ecosystems. Critics argue that every new drilling lease poses the risk of environmental disasters, which can have severe consequences for coastal communities, people, and businesses that rely on a healthy ocean.
As the plan moves forward, it will undergo a 60-day review by the House and Senate. This period provides an opportunity for legislators to consider potential changes and address concerns raised by various stakeholders. Beth Lowell, the United States vice-president of the conservation non-profit Oceana, calls for Congress to reject the proposal and prevent new leases on federal waters.
The Biden administration’s plan for offshore oil and gas leases has generated controversy, with critics arguing that it does not align with the administration’s climate goals and poses environmental risks. The plan’s fate now lies in the hands of Congress as they review and potentially make changes to the proposal.