Photo: Illustration; Source: BOEM

U.S. govt’s new offshore leasing proposal comes under fire from oil & gas industry and environmentalists

After the Biden administration took the next step in the energy planning process by proposing a new, five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program, both the oil and gas industry and environmental groups found grounds to complain and demand further action, albeit in completely opposed directions.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) announced the availability of the Proposed Program for the 2023-2028 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program), as well as the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2023-2028 Program (Draft PEIS and Appendix) for public comments on 1 July 2021.

This Proposed Program includes no more than ten potential lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and an option for one potential lease sale in the northern portion of the Cook Inlet of Alaska while no lease sales are proposed for the other Alaska planning areas, nor for the Atlantic or Pacific planning areas during the five-year period.

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While the Notice of Availability (NOA) for the Proposed Program and Draft PEIS will be published in the Federal Register later this month for a 90-day public comment period, EnerGeo Alliance, a global trade association for the energy geoscience industry, and Oceana, an international advocacy organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation, have already expressed their views.

Oil & gas: more permits to unleash American energy

In its statement last Friday, the EnerGeo Alliance urged Biden’s administration to release the Gulf of Mexico permits in the wake of the proposed five-year program release.

The EnerGeo Alliance’s President, Nikki Martin, remarked: “The Administration’s release of a significantly reduced proposed five-year offshore oil and gas lease program demonstrates a lack of concern for the nation’s future energy security and access to the energy which ensures citizens’ well‐being as the industry works to accelerate the energy evolution.

“It is critical a final Leasing Program provides a clear pathway to develop the affordable and reliable energy sources for growing U.S. demand and to fulfill the President’s promise to nations who are seeking replacement of energy sources spurred by the current geopolitical volatility.”

Martin encouraged Biden’s administration to “expeditiously work to finalize a Leasing Program that encourages continued energy production which has put millions of Americans to work, generated billions of dollars in revenue for federal and state governments and put downward pressure on prices for consumers – notably, allowing citizens with the least means to access the benefits of low energy costs, all the while reducing emissions.”

According to the EnerGeo Alliance’s president,  the growth of U.S. production had also “dramatically increased the nation’s resistance to energy market shocks.” Martin claims that the long-term energy security of the U.S. can “only be strengthened with a lasting commitment to continuing onshore and offshore oil and natural gas leasing and development.”

Moreover, Martin believes that this administration needs to take steps to relieve the American people of high energy costs in the near term by taking action to release the permit backlog as operators in the Gulf of Mexico are “currently waiting for the Administration to provide ‘Letters of Authorization’ for energy geoscience surveys critical to bringing already-discovered assets online, increasing production of existing assets and allowing exploration of held leases to locate additional reservoirs.”

Martin further added that the EnerGeo Alliance “calls upon this Administration to not only expeditiously finalise a five-year program but to approve the authorisations in the Gulf today that are stalling production of energy resources and preventing much-needed economic relief to the American people.”

Stop offshore drilling and focus on offshore wind

On the other hand, Oceana called on President Biden to fulfill his promise to end new offshore drilling, underlining that during his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to end new leasing.

To remind, Biden paused new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters in January 2021 until an analysis of their impacts on the environment and value to taxpayers could be completed, in a bid to speed up the energy transition and meet climate change goals.

However, a federal judge ordered a resumption of auctions in June 2021. The decision was justified by citing the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which outlines that the government is required by law to offer acreage to the oil and gas industry.

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In its statement last Friday, Oceana also made a reference to the International Energy Agency assessment that nations must stop developing new oil and gas fields if global warming is to stay within relatively safe limits.

Diane Hoskins, Oceana’s campaign director, remarked: “It’s disappointing that President Biden is still considering new lease sales, but we’re encouraged that the president put forward a no-new-leasing option. The inevitable conclusion must be finalising a program that ends new leasing for offshore drilling.

New leases are incompatible with efforts to address the climate crisis and won’t help lower gas prices. We know that more leasing for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling and spilling threatens our ocean, climate, and economy.”

Furthermore, a recent Oceana analysis found that permanent offshore drilling protections for all unleased federal waters could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the equivalent to taking every car in the United States off the road for the next 15 years. In addition, the analysis found that permanent protections in all unleased federal waters could prevent more than $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment.

“The oil and gas industry is lying when they say new leases will help gas prices. Even the previous administration agreed that new leases won’t likely produce oil for more than ten years. It’s ridiculous to sell more leases when oil companies are not even developing the leases they already have.

Oil companies own over 8 million acres of unused leases, or 75 per cent of the total leased acreage of public waters. Ending new leasing for offshore drilling is a vital step to tackle the climate crisis and protect millions of jobs that rely on a healthy ocean,” added Hoskins.

Moreover, Hoskins pointed out that the Trump administration’s previous drilling plan confirmed that new leases will not help gas prices, stating that production “in newly available OCS areas will likely not occur for a decade or more,” and new leasing “cannot provide resources to quickly mitigate the effects of a national energy emergency.”

“But our oceans can be a part of the clean energy solution through responsibly developed offshore wind. We are counting on President Biden to keep his promise and finalise a plan with no new oil and gas lease sales,” concluded Hoskins.