- The Biden Administration has reduced the size of the legally required oil and gas offshore lease sale scheduled in September, ostensibly to protect the Rice whale.
- The Interior Department reduced acreage by almost 10 percent after capitulating to oil and gas opponents who had sued over the Gulf of Mexico sale.
- This is the last sale planned because the Biden administration has not complied with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Leasing Act and will be 18 months late with a future plan.
- Biden has leased fewer acres than any president since the end of World War II.
- Biden’s offshore wind energy plan continues even though Right whales are washing up on beaches along the areas where wind activities have begun.
President Biden is willing to reduce acreage in a forthcoming lease sales for offshore oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico to protect whales but will not do the same for offshore wind. The Biden administration plans to auction 67 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas development in a lease sale next month required by federal law, cutting 9 percent from the initial proposal. Lease Sale 261 to be held on September 27 will offer approximately 12,395 blocks on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf in the Western, Central, and Eastern Planning Areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) reduced the available territory by 6.4 million acres following a legal settlement with environmentalists to safeguard potential habitat for the Rice whale. BOEM is also warning companies that they should not count on quick approvals for seismic surveys and other activity that could harm the whale. And, the agency is requiring vessel operators to maintain a vigilant watch for the whales and abide by speed restrictions in the whale’s habitat. Offshore wind, however, is not getting the same treatment by the Biden administration, as explained below.
Oil & Gas Lease Sale and Lease Plan
The September 27 auction — currently the last offshore oil sale planned by the U.S. government — is set to be just above a 60-million-acre threshold mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act. A five-year plan for selling new offshore oil and gas leases in U.S. waters expired on June 30, 2022, and the BOEM has not finalized a new one. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act mandates that the Secretary of the Interior ‘shall prepare’ an offshore lease program to ‘best meet national energy needs.’ Federal law directs the Interior Department to issue an offshore leasing program detailing the year and location of potential oil and gas lease sales over the course of a five-year period. Biden’s Department of Interior expects to publish a proposed final program in September 2023, which triggers a mandatory 60-day review period for the President and Congress, after which the secretary may approve the program. That schedule makes the new lease plan 18 months late, consistent with Biden’s energy policies which have resulted in the fewest acres leased offshore since World War II.
Offshore oil advocates questioned the decision to reduce the size of the lease area in some of the most promising areas in the Gulf of Mexico, which provides about 15 percent of U.S. oil production. They allege the move poses a “barrier” to America’s energy production capabilities at a time when they are much needed, with inflation and Biden’s anti-oil and gas policies driving up the costs of everything for Americans including gasoline and diesel.
According to environmentalists, the limits are necessary to ensure the survival of a whale species whose numbers have dwindled to as few as 51. Yet, the Biden administration is doing nothing about offshore wind activities that are believed to have affected whale deaths on Atlantic shores. Endangered North Atlantic right whales are vulnerable to ocean noise pollution, vessel strikes, shifts in prey locations, and habitat degradation that are affected by offshore wind development. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the population of North Atlantic right whales has declined to fewer than 350.
Climate activists prefer that the administration scrap the oil and gas lease sale altogether despite its mandate by Congress, arguing the potential oil the sale could unleash is not needed in a world destined to be changed by politicians’ climate policies. Those policies push unreliable and expensive wind and solar power, particularly offshore wind, and range-limited and expensive electric vehicles on Americans. In Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s largest electric utility, has asked for a 30 percent rate hike to pay for purchases of electricity because its intermittent wind and solar power are insufficient to meet demand. Wyoming used to have reliable coal power sufficient for demand, but coal is not a preferred fuel by climate change activists and the Biden administration, who are pushing utilities to renewable energy.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is moving forward to lease offshore wind areas off the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico to meet President Biden’s goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. BOEM has an offshore lease plan for wind for 2021 to 2025, but that same agency has not put forward an offshore lease plan for oil and gas, even though it is mandated by Congress. The oil and gas offshore lease plan is expected this fall, but one of the options in the draft plan released in July 2022 is to no longer provide oil and gas offshore lease sales. The dichotomy is amazing when natural gas plants are more cost effective than wind and solar plants as they are available 24/7. Backing up wind and solar plants is expensive as the rate increase in Wyoming attests.
Oil Companies Sue
An oil and gas industry trade group, the state of Louisiana and Chevron has recently sued the Biden administration over its decision to withdraw acreage from the September oil and gas lease sale. The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Western District of Louisiana. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the changes were unjustified and unlawful. They stem from an agreement earlier this month between federal agencies and environmental groups who sued in 2020 alleging the government did not provide adequate safeguards for the whales. That lawsuit is now paused.
The Biden administration has cut back on promising areas in the Gulf of Mexico for a September oil and gas lease sale mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act. That lease territory was reduced to protect the Rice whale in an agreement with environmentalists. The Biden administration, however, is not cutting back on its offshore wind program. A number of dead North Atlantic right whales have been found on the coast in several states believed to have been affected by offshore wind development due to noise and other disruptions to their habitat. Biden’s goal is 30 gigawatts of expensive offshore wind by 2030 and his Interior Department is doing all it can to make that happen. The Biden administration is working to “end fossil fuels” as President Biden promised on the campaign trail and does not see an “all of the above energy plan” as needed. As a result, Americans can expect rising energy prices, not just for oil and gas, but electric power as well.