Joe Biden’s administration on Friday unveiled a five-year offshore oil and gas drilling development plan that blocks all new drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in US territorial waters while allowing some lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the south coast of Alaska.
The plan, which has not been finalized, could allow for up to 11 lease sales but gives the interior department the right to make none. It comes two days after the US Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to respond to the climate crisis.
Environmental groups criticized the plan, and some expressed concern that the administration was backing away from the president’s pledge to “no more drilling” during a March 2020 one-on-one debate with Bernie. Sanders.
Biden said at the time, “No more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore — no ability for the oil industry to continue drilling — period.”
Environmental groups also argued that new leases would hamper the Biden administration’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 in a bid to keep global warming below the 1.5°C (2.7°F) threshold.
“President Biden has campaigned on climate leadership, but he looks set to let us down at the worst possible time,” said Brady Bradshaw, oceans campaign manager at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Reckless approval of even 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.
Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch said, “President Biden has called the climate crisis the existential threat of our time, but the administration continues to pursue policies that will only make the situation worse.”
On Friday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she and the president “have made clear our commitment to moving to a clean energy economy.” The department’s proposal, she said, was “an opportunity for the American people to review and provide feedback on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing.”
The proposal to sell 11 leases must go through a series of reviews and a potentially controversial public comment period. Most of the new leases would be offered in parts of the western and central Gulf of Mexico, a far cry from where lawmakers have banned new drilling near Florida.
Healthy Gulf executive director Cyn Sarthou said the organization was troubled by the apparent change in policy.
“Now is not the time to continue business as usual,” Sarthou said. “The continued threat posed by climate change is forcing the nation to focus on a transition to renewable energy.”
Nearly 95% of U.S. offshore oil production and 71% of offshore natural gas production occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, according the Natural Resources Defense Council. About 15% of oil production comes from offshore drilling.
The proposed leases come after sales in two Gulf regions were dropped due to legal challenges.
Oil industry advocates hailed the new proposal, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“Our allies across the free world desperately need American oil and gas,” Manchin said in a statement. “I’m disappointed to see that ‘zero’ rental sales are even an option on the table.”
One of the proposed new leases could be granted in Cook Inlet in Alaska, an area already highly vulnerable to the effects of climate degradation. “This decision is incredibly disappointing in the face of the ongoing climate impacts that are already deeply felt by our community around Alaska,” said Cook Inletkeeper Advocacy Director Liz Mering.
Mering added, “Alaskans have worked to ensure that Lower Cook Inlet remains this amazing place for our fishing and tourism industry, which supports a thriving local economy. Thirty-three years after the horrific Exxon Valdez disaster, Alaskans still remember and recognize the risk of more oil polluting our waters, killing our fish, and hurting Alaskans.
The proposal came a day after the administration held its first land lease auction, drawing bids of $22 million from energy companies seeking drilling rights to about 110 square miles of public land in across Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma. , Utah and Wyoming.
After the sale, Western Environmental Law Center attorney Melissa Hornbein said, “Overwhelming scientific evidence shows us that burning fossil fuels from existing leases on federal lands is incompatible with a habitable climate.”