The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it will ax three planned oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, effectively halting the potential to sell drilling leases in coastal waters this year, several media outlets report.
A spokesperson for the Department of Interior told USA TODAY that the decision is due to a mix of reasons, including lack of interest from oil companies and legal obstacles.
The department “will not move forward” with the sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet “due to a lack of industry interest in leasing in the area” and the department won’t hold two sales in the Gulf of Mexico “as a result of delays due to factors including conflicting court rulings that impacted work on these proposed lease sales,” the spokesperson said.
The planned sales were the last to be held under a five-year plan for leasing in federal waters that expires in June, according to Reuters. The Biden administration is poised to let it lapse without a new program in place.
The announcement comes as gas prices nationwide reach a record high. The average price for regular gas in the US was $4.37 per gallon on Tuesday, beating the previous record set in early March shortly after Russia started its invasion of Ukraine.
In recent weeks, Biden has said the US will step up to supply Europe with gas in an effort to decrease global dependence on Russian energy. But the action on leases does fall in line with Biden’s campaign promise to tackle climate change more aggressively.
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Kristen Monsell, Oceans Program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lease in Cook Inlet would have up drilling in an area home to critically endangered beluga whales and was predicted to result in hundreds of oil spills over the 40 years of drilling the lease sale would have permitted.
“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,” Monsell said. “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.”
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans for Earthjustice, told CBS News that it could be more than a decade before the planned leases impact gas prices.
“It’s good for the climate, which can’t handle new oil and gas development,” Caputo said. “It’s good for Cook Inlet because offshore drilling is dangerous and disruptive. 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.”
Fossil fuel advocates disagree.
Frank Macchairola, a top official with the American Petroleum Institute, slammed the Biden administration for canceling the Cook Inlet lease, calling it “another example of the administration’s lack of commitment to oil and gas development in the US,” according to CBS.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Mike Berg noted the nation’s already record-high gas in a statement, adding, “Democrats seem intent on making the problem worse.”
More than 1 million acres would have been covered under the Alaska lease. Lease sales in the area were canceled in 2006, 2008 and 2010, with lack of industry interest cited at that time as well, according to the Hill.