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White House Plan Offers Up to 11 Offshore Lease Sales - Or None at All

rig in gulf of mexico
USCG file image

Published Jul 2, 2022 12:00 AM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, the White House released its long-awaited proposal for the next five-year offshore leasing program, and the contents appear to walk back President Joe Biden's campaign pledge to halt further offshore oil and gas auctions. It has drawn criticism from both the energy industry and from environmental activists, as it proposes dueling options: no new leasing at all, or as many as 11 lease sales.

While the plan keeps a moratorium on leasing off the U.S. East Coast and the U.S. West Coast, it opens up the possibility of 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one lease sale in Cook Inlet, Alaska over the span of the next five years. At the same time, it also gives the administration an option to conduct no new leasing. 

The proposal marks the start of a public comment period; the last five-year plan generated two million comments, and the latest is likely to generate high interest as well. 

“From Day One, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now," said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement. 

The White House is facing down an energy price spike greater than any seen in decades, and it is under tremendous pressure to deliver relief at the gasoline pump - especially in an election year. While the five-year leasing plan will not affect oil prices in the near term, it is a signal that the administration has a willingness to discuss E&P. 

That willingness is cause for concern for climate activists, who have called for the president to stick to his original campaign promise. 

“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 finalizing a program that ends new leasing for offshore drilling," said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins in a statement. "It’s ridiculous to sell more leases when oil companies are not even developing the leases they already have."

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the plan comes too late and does not do enough to guarantee more leases. For months, API has been urging the administration to complete its five-year plan in order to ensure continuity; the previous administration's plan expired Thursday, guaranteeing that there will now be a monthslong gap while the plan is reviewed and finalized.

"Because of their failure to act, the U.S. is now in the unprecedented position of having a substantial gap between programs for the first time since this process began in the early 1980s, leaving U.S. producers at a significant disadvantage on the global stage," said API SVP Frank Macchiarola in a statement. "At a time when Americans are facing record high energy costs and the world is seeking American energy leadership, tonight’s announcement leaves open the possibility of no new offshore lease sales, the continuation of a policy that has gone on for far too long."