By VICTOR SKINNER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — The Biden administration has released a preliminary proposal that could prohibit oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico for the next five years, though it will undergo a lengthy public comment period and congressional review before it’s finalized.
“From day one, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement Friday. “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.”
The Department of Interior on Friday released a draft plan for proposed lease sales for the outer continental shelf for the next five years, as required by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act adopted in 1978.
The federal law requires a five-year plan to allow oil and gas companies to bid for drilling and extracting in offshore waters, and the proposal announced Friday will replace an Obama-era plan that was implemented in 2017 and expired on Thursday.
“The Proposed Program includes no more than 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one potential lease sale in the northern portion of the Cook Inlet Planning Area offshore Alaska, which is the same as in the five year program finalized in 2016,” according to an Interior announcement.
“These potential lease sales, including in the GOM, could be further refined and targeted, based on public input and analysis, prior to program approval,” the announcement read. “The Final Program also may include fewer potential lease sales, including no lease sales.”
The possibility of no lease sales stands in stark contrast to a 2018 proposal from the Trump administration that included 47 lease sales across 25 of 26 outer continental shelf planning areas, which was never implemented following a deluge of public comments.
House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., blasted the Biden administration for releasing the notice on the eve of a holiday weekend, and for the potential impact of the proposal on Americans struggling with sky-high energy prices.
“DOI’s statement that the final plan may contain zero lease sales is deeply concerning and would be unprecedented. This administration continues demolishing access to American resources, and we are paying the price at the pump, at the grocery store, and in our family budgets,” Rep. Westerman said. “There is absolutely no reasonable explanation why we cannot tap into our resources here at home and at least have a plan heading in the right direction to ease soaring energy costs. This administration adds a new dimension to incompetence and worse than that, they are unwilling to listen to anyone who can help them do the right thing.”’
Rep. Westerman stressed that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act directs the Department of Interior to develop a plan that will “best meet national energy needs for the five year period following its approval.”
Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves noted that federal officials “literally had years” to craft a new five-year plan and the failure to do so before the previous one expired will have a serious negative impact on how Louisiana funds hurricane, coastal and flood protection projects.
“This is the first time there has ever been a lapse in the program,” he said. “Their self-imposed delays are contributing to higher prices, less certainty and more dependence on Iran, Venezuela and others.”
The Interior announcement aligns with an executive order signed by President Joe Biden shortly after taking office that halted new leases on federal lands and offshore waters, an element of a broader agenda to wean America from its reliance on fossil fuels.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has led a dozen states and the petroleum industry in challenging the Biden administration’s energy policies through multiple ongoing lawsuits.
The Interior’s preliminary plan now must go through a 90-day public comment period. Once an updated plan is published, Congress and the president will have another 60 days to review and take action.