While welcoming the Biden administration’s decision to cancel three oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, conservation and climate groups on Thursday also renewed demands for an end to all offshore drilling in U.S. waters.
“We need to end new leasing and phase out existing drilling.”
The U.S. Interior Department explained in a statement late Wednesday that the Gulf decision was “a result of delays due to factors including conflicting court rulings that impacted work on these proposed sales,” and it wasn’t moving forward with the Cook Inlet sale “due to lack of industry interest in the leasing area.”
Kristen Monsell, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans Program legal director, said that “I’m glad Cook Inlet belugas won’t be forced to face even more oil drilling in their only habitats, but much more must be done to protect these endangered whales from offshore drilling.”
“To save imperiled marine life and protect coastal communities and our climate from pollution, we need to end new leasing and phase out existing drilling,” she said.
CBS News noted that “the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has previously canceled lease sales in Cook Inlet three times—in 2007, 2008, and 2011—also citing ‘lack of industry interest’ at the time as the reason for scrapping the sales.”
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife, and oceans for Earthjustice, told CBS that the administration’s decision is “good for the climate, which can’t handle new oil and gas development.”
“It’s good for Cook Inlet because offshore drilling is dangerous and disruptive,” he continued. “And it’s good for the people of Cook Inlet, including native people, who cherish the inlet in its natural state. So it’s a really good thing.”
“The scientists are telling us the time to shift from fossil fuel energy is not years from now,” Caputo added. “It’s today. We need to end offshore oil leasing.”
Both Caputo and Oceana’s Diane Hoskins countered criticism from the fossil fuel industry and Republicans by pointing out how long it would take for those leases to impact gas prices, which are soaring for a range of reasons, including Russia’s war on Ukraine and corporate price gouging.
“Big Oil is using anything they can find to try to extend the life of a dying fossil fuel industry. They are lying when they say they need more leases,” Hoskins told The Washington Post. “We cannot drill our way out of high gas prices, and it would take years or decades for any new leases to begin producing.”
While President Joe Biden promised as a candidate to end new oil and gas leasing, a federal judge last year struck down his moratorium and the administration has claimed it is obligated to keep up sales—a position climate groups have contested.
As the Post detailed Wednesday:
Barring unexpected action, the current five-year offshore drilling program will lapse at the end of June. Interior cannot hold any new oil and gas lease sales until it has completed a replacement plan. But though the federal government is legally obligated to prepare one, the administration has not released its proposal, nor have officials said when it might be coming…
Replacing the current plan won’t happen overnight. The timeline spelled out in regulations governing the program requires a three-step process involving environmental analysis, public comment periods and a review by the president and Congress.
It typically takes the government at least six months to a year to finalize a new offshore drilling plan. This means that even if the Interior Department unveils a new proposal in the coming weeks, the soonest energy companies will learn whether they will have access to new leases, and where, is probably early 2023.
Linking to the newspaper’s report, climate journalist Antonia Juhasz tweeted that “by not releasing a new plan, the administration is effectively putting a halt to any new offshore oil and gas leasing, thereby fulfilling a campaign pledge to do so.”
In a Thursday blog post about the “big win for Alaskan and Gulf of Mexico communities,” Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Irene Gutierrez wrote that “existing production allows us to meet our energy needs for the next decade” and “more drilling today will not make gas any cheaper for consumers, while costing us billions of dollars in climate change-related damages and public health impacts.”
The Interior Department “has ample authority to shape the nation’s offshore energy program to move away from fossil fuels and advance renewable energy sources,” Gutierrez noted in anticipation of the forthcoming five-year plan. “It is time for the U.S. to commit to no new offshore oil and gas leasing and to invest in the clean energy future that we—and our planet—need.”