Gulf of Mexico
Unused oil rigs sit in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: REUTERS/Lee Celano

GOM - Biden plan could allow new offshore drilling in Gulf of Mexico (with news compilation)

His campaign promise to end fossil fuel development on public lands was thwarted by U.S. courts, high gas prices and Russia’s domination of Western European energy. BY

This week, the Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development, holding its first onshore lease sales and releasing a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.

The moves run counter to President Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and come as the president is under mounting political pressure to address high energy prices.

Biden faces a range of conflicting interests on climate change, energy and the economy as he tries to lower gasoline prices and increase energy exports to counter Russia’s dominance of western European energy, all without abandoning the ambitious climate agenda he brought to the White House. On Thursday, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to that agenda with a 6-3 decision that restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to curb climate pollution from the power sector.

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Read also

Environmentalists condemn Biden administration’s offshore drilling plan, The Guardian US / July 02, 2022

STATEMENT: Biden administration's drilling proposal would put U.S. over a barrel, Environment America / July 01, 2022

Interior releases proposed 5-year offshore oil and gas lease sales program, Marine Log / July 02, 2022

Biden proposes to block offshore drilling in Atlantic, Pacific oceans, allow some in Gulf of Mexico, 2UPI News / July 02, 2022

'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling, Common Dreams / July 02, 2022

Biden Seeks to Block New Offshore Drilling in Atlantic, Pacific, The Wall Street Journal / July 02, 2022 (paywall may apply)

Biden proposes more offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, Grist / July 02, 2022

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The Bureau of Land Management was also expected to release a new environmental impact statement for a major oil development proposed in the Alaskan Arctic this week, but the report was not public at the time of publication. That statement could amount to an endorsement for decades of future production from a sensitive and rapidly warming habitat.

“It is definitely a week that I would say calls into question Biden’s commitment to climate change,” said Nicole Ghio, fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group.

For many climate advocates, the new oil and gas leasing comes as a bitter disappointment, particularly because any new oil production will take years and is therefore highly unlikely to alleviate current high energy prices. Instead, advocates say, all the leasing will do is lock in additional oil and gas production years from now, when the nation’s climate targets dictate that oil and gas use should be on the decline.

“It is impossible to fight climate change if we continue to lease public lands and waters to fossil fuels,” Ghio said. “We cannot meet our international commitments, we cannot keep stable to 1.5 degrees (Celsius),” a level of warming beyond which climate impacts are likely to grow far worse, scientists say.

The proposed five-year program was the next step in a process begun by the Trump administration, which had initially considered opening areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts but faced enormous opposition from coastal states. Friday’s plan proposed offering leases in areas that already generate the vast majority of offshore oil production, but the department included a range of options to consider in the final plan after an extensive comment period, including not opening any areas to leasing. Areas off the Atlantic or Pacific coasts would remain off-limits in all the options.

The onshore leases, which were the first issued since Biden took office, opened more than 120,000 acres across the West to new oil and gas development. That was only a fraction of what oil companies had asked for, and the leases will come with a new, higher royalty rate that drillers will pay for any fossil fuels they extract. The vast majority of that acreage was in Wyoming, and oil companies ended up leasing only about 60 percent of the total available, according to the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group.

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