The Biden administration has announced plans to block all new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while potentially letting a handful of new leases go ahead off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, charting a different course from a Trump-era plan that sought to expand offshore drilling to bolster America’s energy security.
The draft plan, released on July 1 by the Interior Department, lays out several options for public input as to how many offshore oil and gas lease sales should be held over the next five years, ranging from nearly a dozen new leases to zero.
“The proposed plan puts forward several options from no lease sales up to 11 lease sales over the next five years,” said Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now.”
Open for consideration and public input are ten potential new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet off the southern coast of Alaska, as laid out in detail in the Draft Proposed Plan (DPP) (pdf).
Entirely removed from consideration are any new leases in federal waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
‘America-First Offshore Energy Strategy’
This stands in contrast to a Trump-era proposal for 47 new offshore drilling leases, including in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Former President Donald Trump, who sought to expand U.S. fossil fuel production as a bulwark against supply disruptions and to bolster America’s energy security, issued an executive order in 2017 titled “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”
In it, Trump wrote that, “increased domestic energy production on Federal lands and waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy,” adding that, “low energy prices, driven by an increased American energy supply, will benefit American families and help reinvigorate American manufacturing and job growth.”
The Biden administration, by contrast, has sought to crack down on fossil fuels as part of its fight against climate change, with President Joe Biden taking steps like blocking the Keystone XL pipeline project and issuing an executive order that froze new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.
Oil prices have soared to multi-year highs since Biden took office, while the price of gasoline has soared to record highs, driving the Biden administration to take steps like pressuring OPEC to boost production, release oil reserves from the strategic stockpile, call on refiners to raise output, and demand that companies expand production under existing leases.
The Interior Department’s announcement that it is considering up to 11 new leases was met with criticism from a number of environmental groups, who saw it as a reversal of a pledge to phase out fossil fuels.
“Offshore drilling is responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gases the United States pushes into the atmosphere,” Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said in a tweet. “@POTUS, your 5 Year Plan should protect climate and communities and prevent new oil and gas leases!”
“President Biden campaigned on climate leadership, but he seems poised to let us down at the worst possible moment,” Brady Bradshaw, senior oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The reckless approval of yet more offshore drilling would mean more oil spills, more dead wildlife and more polluted communities.”
Others denounced the removal from consideration of new leases in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the possibility of zero new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska.
“Apparently yes to wind turbines on the path of hurricanes and no to offshore drilling for critical energy supplies during an energy crisis,” said Josh Young, Chief Investment Officer at Bison Interests, said in a tweet. The Biden administration recently launched a partnership with a half dozen state governors to accelerate offshore wind along the East Coast.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Marty Durbin told Reuters in a statement that the proposed plan sent “mixed signals” to businesses.
“Reliable, affordable energy requires long term planning, a government-wide approach, and clear signals to the market,” Durbin told the outlet. “This proposal provides none of that.”
Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, told Reuters that it’s a good thing the draft plan features “a no-drilling option on equal footing with drilling options” and said it would push for that choice.
Matt Wolking, a Republican strategist and VP of Communications at Axiom Strategies, took to Twitter to criticize the Biden administration’s blockage or significant reduction in the number of potential new oil and gas leases compared to the Trump-era plan.
“High gas prices are the goal,” Wolking said in a tweet.