Interior offshore oil drilling plan avoids difficult choices

That range of options shows that the government is in fact making a politically charged decision about new offshore drilling, which it promised to end on federal lands and waters during the 2020 campaign. While the public comment As the period runs until the end of September, the Home Office could take even more time to analyze the comments before announcing the final plan, a senior government official said in an interview.

“The proposed plan narrows the discussion to only areas where there is already existing manufacturing and infrastructure,” the person said. “We believe this proposal is an opportunity to empower the public to meaningfully participate in the ongoing discussion we are having on how best to meet the country’s energy needs and transition to a clean energy economy.”

High fuel prices have eaten away Biden’s approval rating, and given Republicans a handy weapon to wield against Democrats, who are under pressure from environmental groups to curtail methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry to combat climate change, said Matt Smith, chief oil analyst at analytics firm. kpler.

“They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” Smith said of the government’s options in an interview. prior to the announcement. “If they do, they come under criticism for using fossil fuels. If they don’t, they will be blamed for hindering oil production and driving up prices.”

If the government chooses not to offer a lease sale, it would be the first time since the program began in 1980 that the government has refused to lease the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for oil production. It would also be a big political gamble for Biden, who took office promising to move the US toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, but has turned around to advocate for more oil and gas production as inflation rose.

Gasoline prices have fallen from the recent high of $5.00 a gallon set in mid-June but still remain high at $4.82 a gallon. Americans have pointed to inflation as the main problem facing the country, contributing to Biden’s poor approval ratings.

“If they sacrifice oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, it will have devastating effects on our country for decades,” said Erik Milito, head of the National Ocean Industries Association trade group that supports offshore oil and production.

sen. Joe Manchinthe West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is the largest Democratic supporter of the oil and gas sector in the chamber, expressed concern that the Home Office even included an option that would not include a lease sale.

“I am disappointed to see that ‘zero’ lease sales is even an option on the table,” Manchin said in a press release. “I hope that the government will eventually give the green light to a plan to expand domestic energy production, in the cleanest way possible, while taking the necessary steps to get our offshore leasing program back on track to deliver the necessary market signals. to provide price relief for every American.”

But if it continues to offer lease sales, environmental groups are likely to accuse Biden of failing to deliver on its promise to divert America from fossil fuels, as climate change amplifies increasingly devastating weather patterns across the country. Methane emissions in the US, which had fallen in 2020 as drilling slowed during the Covid pandemic, are now poised to exceed 2019 levels, energy and environmental analytics firm Kayrros said in a report Friday.

“The president promised to lead the way on climate change, and this would be incompatible with leading climate change,” he said. Diane Hoskins, campaign manager at conservation group Oceana “We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lead the way in clean energy. This would lead to dangerous offshore drilling.”

Interior was under political pressure to release the plan. Home Secretary Deb Haaland had promised senators from the Energy and Natural Resources Commission it would be ready by June 30 and delivered a proposal to the White House a few weeks ago, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO. This led to a discussion among staff whether they should adhere to the recent pace of two lease sales a year for the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to avoid criticism that the government was not addressing fuel prices, or to stick with Biden’s climate message and halt new leases.

“In recent days, pressure to appease the environmental base has been gaining ground,” said an industry representative who had contacted the White House about the proposal, requesting anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Despite the tumult, the impact of new offshore leases would not be felt For several years.

New Gulf of Mexico leases need at least five years to deliver oil and gas, analysts sayAnd the sale of new leases does not automatically lead to new production: Exxon, Shell, BP and other companies own thousands of leases purchased in previous sales that are currently undeveloped.

even with no Under new leases, the Gulf of Mexico is expected to produce about the same number of barrels of oil it does now by the end of 2023, the US Energy Information Administration said in an analysis published earlier this month.

Five-year plans, which Interior began in 1980, determine which portions of the federal offshore acreage companies can lease for oil and gas production and when those leases will take place. Over the years, the relatively calm waters of the oil and gas rich Gulf of Mexico in the US have become the dominant area of ​​most industry’s attention. and more oil is produced in the region than anywhere else in the United States except Texas.

This particular update has attracted undue attention since the Trump administration published an initial draft in 2018 that would have opened all federal waters to drilling, including those off the east and west coasts, as well as Florida, where it is currently banned.

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