Biden Admin Unveils Record-Low Final Offshore Drilling Plan, Industry Calls Foul

Biden Admin Unveils Record-Low Final Offshore Drilling Plan, Industry Calls Foul

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Biden’s offshore wind projects can’t happen without new oil and gas leases.

The Biden administration on Friday disclosed its final offshore oil and gas leasing plan for the next five years with the “fewest oil and gas lease sales in history,” which the industry says fails to meet America’s growing energy needs and puts its energy security at risk.

The plan, mandated by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), imposes significant restrictions on offshore oil and gas lease sales as part of the administration’s commitment to its climate agenda.

Under the finalized plan, the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will conduct three lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico in 2025, 2027, and 2029, marking the fewest in the department’s periodic leasing plans. The plan explicitly excludes leasing off the Alaskan coast as well as in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, representing a departure from previous strategies.

The administration acknowledged that the IRA compelled a balance between conventional and green energy projects, which it signaled prevented an even more restrictive five-year lease sale program.

The legislation, signed by President Biden last year, mandates the federal government to lease at least 60 million acres for oil and gas exploration as a condition for issuing offshore wind power leases, highlighting the intricate link between fossil fuels and renewable energy development.

“These three lease sales are the minimum number that will enable the Interior Department’s offshore wind energy program to continue issuing leases in a way that will ensure continued progress towards the Administration’s goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030,” the DOI said in a statement.

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America currently has just two small offshore wind energy pilot projects, one off the coast of Rhode Island and the other off Virginia’s coast, but the DOI has permitted several large-scale facilities since 2021 that are slated to come online in coming years.

The DOI emphasized that the areas considered for leasing and the number of lease sales in the 2024–2029 Final Program have been substantially narrowed compared to the previous administration’s proposal. The previous administration had initially suggested 47 lease sales off all coastal areas in the United States.

Critics, including the American Petroleum Institute (API), voiced strong opposition to the plan.

API’s Vice President of Upstream Policy Holly Hopkins called it a “step in the wrong direction.”

“Simply put, this final 5-year program fails to meet the energy needs of the American people and could threaten to increase reliance on foreign energy sources,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Hopkins highlighted the growing demand for affordable and reliable energy, criticizing the federal government for “choosing to limit future production” in a region she argues plays a crucial role in powering the nation and which provides “among the lowest carbon-intensive barrels” globally.

President Biden’s approach to leasing “significantly curtails access to a critical national asset,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents both traditional and renewable offshore energy producers, in a statement on Friday.

“The White House simply ignores energy realities by once again limiting U.S. energy production opportunities,” he added.

“With global demand at record levels and continuing to rise, regressive policies will harm Americans of all walks of life by putting upward pressure on prices at the pump, destroying good-paying jobs that form the fabric of Gulf Coast communities, and relinquishing geopolitical advantages of energy production to countries like Russia, Iran and China,” he continued.

On the environmental front, concerns were raised by ocean conservation groups, particularly targeting the administration’s decision to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Beth Lowell, Oceana’s vice president for the United States, expressed her disappointment, saying, “This Five-Year Plan started with President Trump proposing to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling and ends with President Biden’s final plan that is the smallest to date.”

“The footprint of offshore drilling was not expanded, but the dangerous cycle of drilling and spilling must end,” Ms. Lowell added.

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