Today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released its final Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program and accompanying environmental impact statement that outlines its offshore leasing schedule for the next five years. The proposed final program includes three huge, region-wide oil-and-gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. Following intense opposition to the 11 sales initially proposed in the draft program, this plan reflects a historically low number of lease sales and spares Alaska’s Cook Inlet from future leasing.
The sales under this program would nevertheless lock the U.S. into up to 70 additional years of offshore oil and gas extraction and result in hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution, based on Interior’s own estimates. This represents a step backwards from the White House’s stated plan to slash U.S. carbon pollution in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“It’s very important that the Biden administration is scaling back plans for oil and gas leasing, and it’s essential to create the runway for a transition to offshore wind. But this five-year plan also represents a crucial missed opportunity to minimize future oil and gas drilling. We are too far along in the climate crisis to be committing ourselves to decades of new fossil fuel extraction, especially following the hottest summer in recorded history,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “We will continue to work alongside Gulf Coast communities to challenge new leasing and transition beyond a fossil economy that is poisoning people and driving climate change.”
In explaining its rationale for the plan, Interior cited the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the connection between offshore oil and gas leasing and renewable energy leasing. Yet, under Earthjustice’s analysis of the IRA, Interior did not need to include more than a single oil and gas sale in the Five-Year Program to allow for planned federal offshore wind leasing.
Climate change has resulted in unprecedented temperature spikes this year. These extreme and worsening climate-related events have hit every part of the country, costing the U.S. government a record $23 billion (so far) and highlighting an urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if the Biden administration had opted for zero lease sales, oil production in the U.S. would nevertheless be on track to reach an all-time high averaging 13.1 million barrels a day in 2024. That’s enough to keep the U.S. in its No. 1 spot as the largest producer of global crude oil. Additionally, the U.S. already accounts for more than a third of the expansion of global oil and gas production planned by 2050. And scheduling new offshore oil and gas lease sales will not lower gas prices, increase jobs, or increase oil production for at least a decade, if then.
Meanwhile, oil-and-gas companies are already well-positioned to continue development far into the future. They are in possession of more than 2,000 active leases that cover more than 12 million acres of offshore territory in the Gulf. Yet only about 25% of those active leases have started producing oil and gas, meaning industry holds about 9 million acres that it could still develop. In recent years, each Gulf lease sale has offered up an average of 70 million acres, spanning virtually all unleased U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Biden administration’s Five-Year Program will prolong untenable climate and environmental justice costs that Gulf communities have been made to bear for generations. Residents living along the Gulf coast suffer from disproportionate health burdens due to life-threatening, toxic industrial pollution directly connected to federal offshore oil and gas leasing.
Additionally, Gulf ecosystems, which are increasingly vulnerable to human caused climate change, will continue to be threatened by oil and gas operations that have consistently caused grave harm because of seismic activities, ship strikes, and numerous accidents, including the massive BP spill in 2010.