The Biden administration proposed July 1 offering oil and natural gas drillers no more than 10 lease sales for offshore Gulf of Mexico acreage and a single auction for Alaska waters through 2028, a sharp reduction from the 47 sales the Trump administration proposed.
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The next proposed five-year plan removes the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from consideration, which was expected. It also floats the possibility of scrapping all offshore sales for the period.
The Interior Department is seeking comments on the proposal, which was released a day after the Biden administration missed a deadline to adopt a final five-year plan. The process has in the past taken two or three years to finalize.
The latest proposed National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program calls for a single Gulf of Mexico sale in both 2023 and 2028, and two each in 2024, 2025, 2026, and 2027. The sale proposed for Alaska's Cook Inlet would be in 2026.
"A proposed program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement, adding that the Biden administration remains committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy.
"Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing," Haaland said. "The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now."
US Gulf of Mexico oil production averaged 1.7 million b/d in 2021, up from 1.6 million b/d in 2020 but still below pre-pandemic volumes of 1.9 million b/d in 2019. The US Energy Information Administration expects it to only reach 1.8 million b/d in 2023.
The House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva urged the Interior to drop all the lease sales during the public review.
"Holding any new offshore oil and gas lease sales over the next five years is a lose-lose for Americans," Grijalva said in a statement. "It will do nothing to help lower prices at the pump, and it will make our emissions goals virtually impossible to achieve."
National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito urged the Biden administration to quickly adopt the proposal as written, given historic tightness in global oil markets and high fuel prices.
"Efforts to limit acreage or hold fewer lease sales would needlessly eliminate opportunities for US energy production in a basin that is recognized as providing among the lowest carbon barrels," Milito said in a statement.
"The final offshore leasing program must include multiple, region-wide lease sales per year in the Gulf of Mexico to provide the flexibility necessary for companies to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions and to pursue the most promising geologic prospects of hydrocarbons," he added.