U.S. pauses planning for March oil and gas lease sale

Due to President Biden’s executive order from January and plans to pursue a clean energy future, the U.S. government has rescinded the Record of Decision for the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale, which was supposed to be held this March.

To remind, President Biden in late January signed an executive order to halt new oil and gas leasing. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) claimed the decision would “help restore balance on public lands and waters”.

The DOI also said the order would enable job creation and provide a path to align the management of U.S. public lands and waters with the country’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals.

Under the executive order, steps will be made to accelerate the development of renewable energy on public lands and waters, including setting a goal to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.

As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Friday, 12 February 2021 announced that it was rescinding the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale 257.

The decision pauses planning for the proposed sale, which was expected to occur this March.

A region-wide Gulf of Mexico lease sale was supposed to offer approximately 78.2 million acres, including approximately 14,594 unleased blocks.

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BOEM said that the ROD is being rescinded in response to Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad”.

The order, which was signed by President Biden on 27 January 2021 directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review of Federal oil and gas activities.

A Federal Register notice formally rescinding the ROD is forthcoming, BOEM added.

The latest move by the U.S. government has seen mixed reactions, depending on who you ask.

Namely, the U.S. nonprofit organization Center for Biological Diversity welcomed Biden’s decision. Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Cancelling this huge offshore Gulf oil auction helps protect our climate and life on Earth. President Biden understands the urgent need to keep this oil in the ground”.

Monsell added: “This is a great step toward phasing out all offshore drilling and bringing environmental justice to the Gulf Coast and Alaska. We need to help restore coastal communities and marine life”.

Oil & gas industry still hopeful

However, the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) president, Erik Milito, commented: “We remain hopeful that the Administration will proceed with the lease sale upon completion of its review”.

Milito also added: “The Obama Administration review of the 2017-2022 Five Year Plan for offshore oil and gas leasing determined GHG emissions would be higher without these lease sales because energy production would be outsourced to foreign counties resulting in a higher carbon footprint.

“Offshore oil production has the lowest carbon intensity of the oil-producing regions and supports more than 345,000 jobs, many of which are accessible, high-paying and cannot be easily substituted”.

As previously reported, Biden’s decision to halt the lease sale has been met with severe criticism from the industry.

The International Association of GeoChemistry (IAGC) claimed that Biden’s “so-called temporary moratorium essentially ends U.S energy security and safely-produced affordable energy for citizens as the U.S. undertakes energy transition”.

The IAGC also called the Biden Administration to “reconsider this short-sighted decision and to engage with industry and the wider public to fully assess the potential adverse effects of it on the country’s economy and on its people”.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) president and CEO, Mike Sommers, called the moratorium “a step backwards” for the U.S. economy.

NOIA president Milito said in January: “Any pause of American energy opportunities will do untold harm towards American economic, energy and environmental progress.

“Reducing American offshore oil and gas development means lost jobs, increased greenhouse gas emissions and less funding for outdoor parks and recreation activities for urban, underprivileged communities. There is no shortage of negative consequences from this leasing pause”.

Only a day after Biden’s executive order was revealed, Republican senators from oil-producing states, led by Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, presented a bill with an aim to block the Biden administration’s order pausing new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.