Energy & Environment

Biden administration weighs whether to shrink offshore drilling lease sales

Associated Press/Eric Gay
A man wears a face mark as he fishes near docked oil drilling platforms, on May 8, 2020, in Port Aransas, Texas.

The Biden administration is considering auctioning off a smaller section of the Gulf of Mexico for drilling than the Trump administration was expected to, according to new documents released on Thursday. 

The Interior Department on Thursday released a draft of a “Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement” outlining its plans for the sales of the rights to drill offshore. 

But while a separate Environmental Impact Statement released by the Trump administration called for a “regionwide” lease sale,  the Biden administration’s document weighs a range of options. 

The Biden document does not specify which option it is most likely to choose, opening the door for a possibly smaller lease sale than the Trump administration would have held. 

The Biden administration is still considering regionwide lease sales encompassing 84 million acres, but is apparently giving equal weight to smaller alternatives that would encompass 56 million acres or 27 million acres, respectively. 

It is also weighing whether, with any of these alternatives, to add some small additional exclusions. 

The Biden administration’s document also lists canceling the sales as a possible option, but it is unlikely to do so because the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act requires it to hold the drilling rights auctions. 

Lease sales kickstart the process of new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters. But the process is lengthy and these sales often don’t result in new energy production right away.

Offshore drilling usually takes several years to bring new barrels of oil to the market, so these auctions are unlikely to directly impact gasoline prices in the near term. 

The Inflation Reduction Act — the name of the Democrats’ climate, tax and health care bill — required the Biden administration to hold several additional drilling auctions in the Gulf. 

The provision was likely added, to the chagrin of many environmental advocates, to secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) whose vote was crucial to passing the package. 

Prior to the law, the Biden administration had implemented a pause on new leases for offshore drilling, although that pause was struck down in court.

The pause was implemented amid concerns about the contribution of U.S. drilling to climate change. 

The Interior Department also announced additional sales of rights to drill onshore in Wyoming and New Mexico.

In Wyoming, it plans to auction off as many as 251,000 acres between April and June of 2023, while it plans to auction off as many as 10,000 acres in New Mexico in May 2023. 

The department said in a press release that it is also considering auctions in other states and expects to announce those “in the coming weeks.”

The Democratic bill ties the future of producing renewable energy on public lands to onshore oil and gas leasing, saying the Interior Department can’t approve renewable development unless it has offered a certain amount of acreage up for oil and gas auctions in the past year. 

The law requires the offshore auctions to be held before April 2023 and October 2023, respectively, in addition to holding a separate sale by the end of this year.

Updated at 10:40 a.m.

Tags Biden Joe Manchin lease sales Offshore drilling

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