Photo: Illustration; Source: BOEM

U.S. to release proposed offshore oil & gas leasing plan by end of June ‘despite delays’

The Biden administration is planning to propose a new, five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program by the end of June this year when the current plan is set to expire.

During testimony before the U.S Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland confirmed that, despite delays in implementation from the previous Administration, the Interior Department would release the Proposed Program – the next step in the five-year offshore energy planning process – by 30 June 2022, which is the expiration of the current program.

However, a Proposed Program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development.

Secretary Haaland said: “The previous Administration stopped work on the new five-year plan in 2018, so there has been a lot to do to catch up. Varying, conflicting litigation has also been a factor. As we take this next step, we will follow the science and the law, as we always do. This requires a robust and transparent review process that includes input from states, the public and Tribes to inform our decision-making. We take this responsibility seriously without any pre-judgment of the outcome.”

The National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program, developed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, establishes a five-year schedule for its oil and gas leasing program as required by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The Program specifies the size, timing, and location of potential leasing activity that the Secretary of the Interior determines will best meet national energy needs.

The latest oil and gas lease sale was held by the Interior Department in November 2021, resulting in more than $191 million in high bids. This was the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history and also the first under the Biden administration. However, in January 2022, a U.S. judge invalidated the results of the lease sale on the grounds of failure to properly account for the lease sale’s climate change impact.

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While environmental groups hailed this decision as a pivotal victory in the fight to defend Gulf communities and the planet from the worsening climate crisis, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association representing the oil and gas industry, was disappointed with the decision. As a result, the association in February 2022 filed a notice of appeal.

Frank Macchiarola, API Senior Vice President for Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs, said: “At a time of rising energy costs and heightened geopolitical tensions, the misguided decision to cancel the only lease sale held last year is contributing to significant uncertainty for U.S. natural gas and oil producers and limiting access to the affordable, reliable energy that’s needed here in the U.S. and around the world.”