Energy & Environment

Biden administration auctions more than 2,000 miles of Gulf of Mexico for oil leasing

FILE – The Centenario deep-water drilling platform off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico, in the Gulf of Mexico, is pictured on Nov. 22, 2013. The Biden administration auctioned oil and gas leases across public waters in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in a sale mandated by last year’s climate bill compromise. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

The Biden administration held an auction of new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday in a move that is required by law but likely to further rankle environmentalists.

Oil companies bid on more than 2,600 square miles of the Gulf for oil and gas development, although a total of 114,000 square miles were up for bid. The sales were part of a requirement in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) added to secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). The IRA provision sets the deadline for the lease sales at the end of this week.

Despite the legal requirement, the move triggered umbrage among environmental organizations, already smarting from President Biden’s approval two weeks ago of the Willow Project, a massive proposed drilling operation in Alaska.  

“The excessive and reckless scope of today’s oil and gas lease sale demonstrates how badly our federal leasing program needs reform,” Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said in a statement. “The Biden Administration is not only holding a lease sale that is at odds with the law — but also succumbing to the wants of a profit-rich industry over the well-being of Gulf communities, vital ecosystems, and our urgent climate goals.”

The oil industry also had complaints; American Petroleum Institute Vice President of Upstream Policy Holly Hopkins said it “should not take an act of Congress to get us to this point.”

“Continued production in the Gulf of Mexico is essential for delivering the energy the world needs while supporting lower carbon goals, but U.S. energy producers need certainty from policymakers in order to meet the growing energy demand,” she said. “It is well past time for the Department of the Interior to finalize a five-year program for federal offshore leasing that will empower U.S. energy producers to meet the needs of consumers here at home and around the world.”  

The Interior Department’s five-year plan for oil and gas leasing, released in draft form last July, included a possible scenario in which no new leasing occurs.

Manchin, however, praised the sale as a vindication of his contributions to the IRA.

“This record lease sale is further evidence that the IRA is holding this administration’s feet to the fire to continue the fossil fuel production we need,” the West Virginia Democrat said in a statement. “The federal government is charged with ensuring that the United States is responsibly developing and utilizing all of our energy resources, and to do that it’s critical that we get our federal leasing programs back on track.”

Tags energy policy Gulf of Mexico Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden Joe Manchin Oil drilling President Joe Biden

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