Biden’s inner circle discusses the future of offshore drilling

WASHINGTON – President Biden’s top aides are considering whether to ban new oil and gas drilling off America’s coast, a move that will impress climate activists but could leave the administration vulnerable to Republican accusations that it is exacerbating an energy crisis with soaring gas prices.

By law, the Home Office is required to release a plan for new oil and gas leases in federal waters every five years. Deb Haaland, the home secretary, promised Congress that a draft of Biden’s plan would be available by June 30.

Fully aware that inflation and price hikes at the pump are weighing on voters ahead of the November midterm elections, two administration officials said, the White House is crafting the plan.

President Biden’s inner circle, including Chief of Staff Ron Klein and longtime adviser Steve Ritchetti, is closely involved in the discussion about whether and where drilling will be allowed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations. .

“The Biden administration is in a difficult position,” said Sarah Rowlett Gusman, professor of environmental and energy law at the University of Arkansas. “If the Department of the Interior decides to cancel outside rental sales or offer few sales, it is doing the right thing for the climate. But it also gives ammunition to fossil fuel companies to say President Biden doesn’t care about rising gas prices.”

Several people familiar with the administration’s decision-making said it is likely to block new drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the face of widespread bipartisan opposition from members of Congress and leaders of coastal states. The eastern Gulf of Mexico has been closed to drilling since 1995.

It is still under consideration whether rent sales should continue to be allowed in parts of the Arctic Ocean as well as the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

As a candidate, Biden has pledged to end new drilling in public lands and in federal waters. Environmental activists have argued that offshore drilling has no place in a clean energy future. They are pressing the administration to ban drilling throughout the entire outer continental shelf to reduce the US contribution to climate change.

“We’ve been very clear in our conversations with the Interior that we expect the president to maintain his campaign commitment to ending the new lease,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign manager for Oceana, an environmental advocacy organization.

The International Energy Agency said countries should stop approving new coal mines, or oil and gas fields in order to keep global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold beyond which catastrophic heat waves, droughts, floods, and large-scale extinctions are more likely. The Earth’s temperature has already increased by an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.

Trey Easton, a Democratic strategist, said that if Biden issues new exploration leases, he risks alienating climate-conscious voters who Democrats need to take part in this fall’s midterm elections.

“Joe Biden has reneged on his major campaign promise, and the extension of new leases will have no impact on energy prices in this country,” he said. “It’s a distraction and I really hope the White House will recognize it as such.”

The areas available for leasing under the scheme will be auctioned until 2027. It could take years between the lease sale and the production of gas or oil from offshore drilling.

However, the fossil fuel industry and Republicans blame record-high gas prices on the Biden administration, accusing it of slowing fossil fuel production.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden called on Congress to pause the federal gas tax to give motorists some relief. The administration also released strategic oil reserves, suspended a ban on summer sales of high-ethanol blend gasoline, and urged US oil producers to increase production.

Republicans say the administration is trying to get both ways.

Wyoming’s Republican senator, Senator John Barrasso, said at a recent hearing where he and others questioned Ms. Haaland over the five-year plan.

The draft five-year plan for the National Outer Continental Shelf Lease for Oil and Gas Program is expected to include several options, including a “no-action alternative” – ​​that is, not introduce any new lease sales, which has been the case in the past.

Home Office spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz declined to comment on the internal deliberations and said no decisions had been finalized.

The department is working hard to develop the Five-Year Plan. “I have no update on the timing,” said Ms. Schwartz.

At one point, the Biden administration considered limiting new drilling to the central and western Gulf of Mexico, according to three people briefed on the matter.

That would be detrimental to consumers, said Eric Milito, president of the National Oceanic Industries Association, which represents offshore energy companies. He said new leases in the Gulf of Mexico could mean an additional 2.4 million barrels of crude oil per day – an amount that “could have a global impact on the market.”

Last month, the Biden administration canceled rental sales in federal waters off Cook Inlet in Alaska, citing a lack of interest in the industry.

The Cook Inlet Basin, once the main source of oil in Alaska, is now a major source of natural gas for local utilities, energy experts said, and large-scale projects have been rare in recent years. However, the industry wants Arctic waters to be available for potential leases in the future.

Once the Department of the Interior’s Office of Ocean Management issues the five-year plan, it will be subject to a period of public comment before it is finalised. Previous presidents used the plan to alternately open the door to uncontrolled development or shut it down to prevent new drilling.

President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Arctic Ocean Beaufort and Chukchi Sea, and later invoked an ambiguous provision of the 1953 Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, to ban drilling along the Atlantic coast.

President Trump has attempted to open all coastal waters of the United States to oil and gas exploration, including areas protected by the Obama administration.

But with the end of his administration and under heavy pressure from Florida Republicans who feared drilling would hurt tourism, Mr. Trump signed an executive order banning drilling for 10 years off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Mr. Trump’s broader plan has not been finalized. Ms. Haaland told lawmakers that the Trump administration halted work on a five-year plan in 2018 and that “disparate conflicting litigation” contributed to the delay, she said.

The offshore oil and gas lease plan has been at the center of the debate over management’s oil and gas decisions. Soon after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order to temporarily halt the issuance of new leases—but a successful legal challenge from Republican states and the oil industry forced the administration to hold new lease sales.

The administration is appealing this ruling. At the same time, it is defending itself in another Republican-led lawsuit that seeks to prevent the government from considering the economic cost of climate change that results from drilling and other actions it allows.

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