Biden administration cancels oil drilling sales in Alaska and Gulf of Mexico

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is canceling sales of oil drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet in Alaska, sparking furious reactions from Republicans, who blame President Biden’s energy policies for high gas prices.

An Interior Department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwartz, said in a statement that the sale of the Cook Inlet lease would not proceed due to a “lack of industry interest”. She said the planned sale of two leases in the Gulf of Mexico was scrapped due to “conflicting court rulings,” which she said affected the agency’s ability to work on the leases.

The decisions come at a difficult time for the Biden administration. The nationwide average price of a gallon of gasoline hit $4.37 on Tuesday, a record according to the AAA. Soaring prices at the pump have added to inflationary pressures for consumers, which Biden said this week will be his top national priority.

The rental program presents a dilemma for Mr. Biden. He promised progressive Democrats and environmental groups that he would propel the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels that are causing climate change. At the same time, he has taken steps to increase oil supplies in an attempt to bring down gas prices, including calling on the oil industry to pump more crude.

Even though any lease sales would not produce oil and gas in time to mitigate the current high energy prices, Republicans and oil industry executives seized on the cancellation of lease sales Thursday to argue that Mr. Biden’s actions were exacerbating the pain felt by consumers.

“The Biden administration’s announcement that it will cancel new offshore oil and gas production is approaching levels of irresponsibility and reckless stupidity never seen before,” said Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, the House Select’s top Republican. Committee on the Climate Crisis, in a press release. .

Mr. Graves and other Republicans as well as oil industry executives have also criticized the Biden administration for so far failing to release a new five-year plan for offshore drilling.

Federal law requires the administration to publish a new offshore lease plan every five years, which is designed to balance the nation’s energy needs with environmental and economic factors.

The current plan expires on June 30, sparking concerns among Republicans, the oil and gas industry and some Democrats in fossil fuel states that offshore leasing will be in limbo starting in July.

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group that represents oil and gas companies, said in a statement that he would “urge the administration to end the uncertainty” for the industry. oil and to publish the five-year plan.

Macchiarola said the decision to scrap lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska is “becoming a pattern” in the Biden administration. “The administration is talking about the need to increase supply and acting to restrict it,” he said.

Selling the Cook Inlet lease would have opened up more than a million acres for drilling, spanning at least 40 years of production. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management previously canceled lease sales in the area in 2006, 2008 and 2010, also citing lack of industry interest at the time.

Drew Caputo, vice president of land, wildlife and oceans litigation for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, called the canceled leases “unnecessary” and said they would run counter to the law. goal of pivoting the nation away from fossil fuels and toward solar, wind and other power. renewable energy sources.

The International Energy Agency said last year that countries must stop approving new oil and gas projects to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the Earth is warming in large part due to greenhouse gases produced when oil, gas and coal are burned.

“The new leases run counter to the meaningful fight against climate change and the transition to the clean energy future that we need,” Caputo said.

The burning of fossil fuels extracted from public lands and federal waters accounts for 25% of the greenhouse gases generated by the United States, which is the second largest polluter on the planet, behind China. Global emissions must be cut nearly in half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic impacts from a warming planet, scientists say.

Mr Biden has pledged to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. As a candidate, he promised to stop new drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told New Hampshire voters in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to suspend issuance of new leases.

But his plan was defeated by lawsuits from the oil industry and environmental activists.

Republican attorneys general in 13 states have successfully challenged the leasing break. As a result, the Biden administration auctioned more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, a record amount, a move that had been anticipated under the Trump administration.

In January, another court struck down that lease sale, arguing that the Biden administration had failed to sufficiently consider climate change when auctioning the leases. The Ministry of the Interior is not appealing this decision.

And yet, a different legal tussle also complicates matters. Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration cannot take climate change damage into account when issuing regulations or other policies. This has led the Biden administration to temporarily suspend a number of decisions – including rental sales for drilling – while it appeals the decision.

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