NEW ORLEANS (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the Alaskan coast over the next five years — going against Democrats’ climate promises but scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities, including in undeveloped areas.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland has said fewer than 11 rental sales – if any rental sales at all – could take place, with a final decision not expected for months. Further drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would be blocked, after being considered under Trump.
“President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to moving to a clean energy economy. Today, we offer an opportunity for the American people to … have their say on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing said Haaland, whose agency oversees drilling on federal lands and waters.
The proposal prompted an immediate backlash from environmentalists — who accused Biden of betraying the climate cause — and oil industry officials and allies, who said it would do little to counter high oil prices. energy. Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon on Friday, a squeeze on commuters and a political albatross for Biden’s fellow Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. That left the White House wrestling with solutions, including Biden’s call last week for the suspension of the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax.
The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January due to climate concerns but was forced to resume them by a U.S. District Judge in Louisiana.
The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings over the move when it canceled the last planned lease sales in the Gulf and Alaska during the previous offshore lease cycle. That previous five-year cycle, a program enacted under former President Barack Obama, expired on Thursday.
There will be a delay of several months before a new plan can be put in place. The oil industry and its allies say the delay could cause problems in planning new drilling and potentially lead to lower oil production.
There is unlikely to be an offshore lease sale until next year, said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading lobby group.
And, he said, administration officials “have gone out of their way to say” there may not be a lease sale at all.
“It’s very important for the administration to send a signal to global oil markets that the United States is seriously considering increasing supply…for the long term,” he said, repeating a long-held assertion. industry officials and Republicans linking oil supply uncertainty to high prices.
In recent weeks, Biden has criticized oil producers and refiners for maximizing profits and making “more money than god,” rather than ramping up production in response to higher prices as the economy tightens. recovering from the pandemic and feeling the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The lease announcement was a bitter disappointment for environmentalists and some Democrats who rallied behind then-candidate Biden when he promised to end new drilling on federal lands and waters.
The proposal comes a day after the administration staged its first onshore lease sales, attracting $22 million in an auction that gives energy companies rights to drill about 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). ) in seven western states. The sales took place despite the administration’s own findings that burning the oil and gas from the packages could cause billions of dollars in potential climate damage.
“Our public lands and waters are already responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s carbon pollution each year. Adding new lease sales to that equation as the climate crisis unfolds all around us is absurd,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona.
Cynthia Sartou, executive director of environmental nonprofit Healthy Gulf, called the lease-purchase plan “a huge loss to Gulf residents, US energy policy and the global climate.”
Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, hailed the proposal as a chance “to get our leasing program back on track.”
“While Americans around the world are suffering from record gas prices and global oil market disruptions caused by (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine, the Interior Ministry has not organized a successful offshore lease sales since November 2020,” the West Virginia lawmaker said.
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 that were later withdrawn. Trump lost the 2020 election before the proposal was finalized.
The current Gulf-wide sales format was implemented under Obama due to declining interest in offshore leases. Before that, there had been decades of regional sales.
Friday’s announcement opens a 90-day public comment period, and then a final plan must be submitted 60 days before it takes 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 this sale before the leases were issued.
Haaland has previously said the industry is “fixed” with the number of drill permits stored and available to it. 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 increased as the economy recovers from the coronavirus downturn, but is still below pre-pandemic levels. Energy companies have been reluctant to increase production further, citing a shortage of workers and restrictions from investors who fear today’s high prices will last.
Big oil companies reported higher first-quarter profits and sent tens of billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders.
Sierra Club’s Athan Manuel said postponing offshore sales until next year “is an important step towards protecting communities and the climate, and we urge the administration to finalize a plan that commits to not not create new offshore drilling leases, period”.
Brown reported from Billings, Mont. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this story.