The Biden administration this month will hold the US government’s first sale since 2021 of oil and natural gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
The news was welcomed by the fossil fuel industry but New Jersey environmentalist Lisa McCormick expressed concern about the failure to encourage energy producers to shift to clean technology.
“In his first two years in the White House, Joe Biden has sold off four times as many oil and gas leases than Donald Trump did in four years,” said McCormick. “Under other circumstances, this might make sense but we have to stop producing more fossil fuels and break our deadly addiction to the leading cause of the climate crisis because the world is on fire,” said McCormick. “This is a catastrophe that will get worse due to Biden’s oil and gas leasing and for all the talk about ‘historic and unprecedented investment’ in clean energy Biden’s effort is woefully inadequate considering the scope of the problem because the world is on fire.”
“There is no middle ground anymore. Either we reduce greenhouse gas emissions or we accelerate the planet’s decline,” said McCormick. “Biden’s oil and gas policy is ‘drill, baby, drill’ instead of ‘save the world’ or something more intelligent.”
“Global warming is not a future problem because climate change is occurring right now, it is costing money and killing living things,” said McCormick. “Without immediate action, our government can expect any number of catastrophic events including climate disasters that result in war, pestilence, and famine but instead of taking such urgent action, President Joe Biden is selling more leases to companies that produce deadly fossil fuels.”
Biden has also sold at least 260 million barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, which is more that the total 172 million barrels that have been ordered released by all other presidents combined.
“Climate change affects nearly every aspect of life on Earth, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” said McCormick. “The UN’s latest IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed leadership, and the Biden climate record is the target of that indictment.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said Friday that Lease Sale 259 will be held on Mar. 29, days before a deadline mandated by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
While the IRA has been promoted as a landmark piece of climate legislation, the law reinstated the results of a Gulf of Mexico lease sale that were invalidated by a federal judge.
The Interior Department finalized plans to hold one of three offshore oil and gas lease sales ordered by the Democrats’ energy and healthcare spending law passed in August.
Biden’s IRA required BOEM to reinstate the results of Lease Sale 257, which a judge had controversially vacated earlier in 2022, and forced the Biden administration to hold two more previously canceled sales in the Outer Continental Shelf by the end of 2023.
The scheduled March event is the first of those; Lease Sale 261 has not been officially scheduled but would likely be held in the late summer or fall.
In March, BOEM will offer up thousands of unleased blocks comprising millions of acres across the Western, Central and Eastern planning areas of the US Gulf.
The Biden administration resumed the sale of leases to drill for oil and gas on 144,000 acres of federal government land in April 2022, to increase U.S. energy production following a surge in the price of gas.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised a complete end to drilling for oil and gas on federal lands, but he swiftly changed course after a court blocked a moratorium he signed.
Jeffrey Eshelman, chief operating officer at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, accused Biden of putting out a “mixed message” on energy policy.
McCormick disagreed, saying Biden’s actions show that he abandoned his promises, as witnessed by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland who said, “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations.”
“Not only does it devastate our planet, it’s a handout to Big Oil at the expense of average Americans, who will bear the brunt of its societal, health and financial ramifications,” said Dan Ritzman, of the Sierra Club. “We urge the Biden administration to take advantage of this historic opportunity to make good on campaign promises, fulfill a global commitment to acting on climate, and serve American communities by phasing out oil and gas production on public lands and oceans.”
Some Gulf players had voiced concern that the March lease sale would be postponed or otherwise challenged. BOEM’s announcement Friday should quell those concerns, at least for now.
Erik Milito, president of industry group National Ocean Industries Association, called the lease sale “vital to our national security interests.”
“Our national energy needs clearly support a commitment to continued US offshore energy development,” he said in a statement, adding that the deepwater Gulf ranks “among the lowest carbon intensity oil-producing regions in the world.”
Noting that Biden even declared that “climate change is a clear and present danger to the United States,” McCormick said the security of the entire planet is threatened by worsening the catastrophic impact of global warming.
“The NOAA says there were 18 billion-dollar weather & climate disaster events during 2022 — the third-highest disaster count + the third-costliest year in the 43-year record— but most governments are dawdling on a response to the imminent disasters adumbrated by global warming,” said McCormick. “Sea-level rise, extreme weather events, droughts, floods, and other direct impacts of global warming affect America’s national security and world health.”
Earlier this week, BOEM announced plans for the first-ever wind energy lease sale in the Gulf, to be held later in the year.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the US Gulf produced a little over 1.8 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude in November 2022, the most recent month of available data.
With new production starting in the coming months and years, volumes are likely to grow in the medium term, meaning tons of deadly carbon will be pumped into the atmosphere despite Biden’s promises to arrest climate change.
Energy analysts forecast Gulf production to average close to 1.9 million b/d this year, peaking at over 2 million b/d in 2026 before slowly declining later in the decade.
“Leaving capitalist consumerism and market economics as the dominant stewards of the only known civilization in the universe will most likely seem, in retrospect, to have been a terrible idea,” said Greta Thunberg, who first started making headlines five years ago by leading school strikes outside of the Swedish parliament and has since become one of the most recognized voices in climate activism.
“Joe Biden is ignoring the voices of children who have shared the best available science to shine a spotlight on what industrial output had done to the Earth and what we must do to keep it habitable by humanity,” said McCormick. “Earth’s climate is changing faster today than ever before in the history of our species – and human actions are the main reason why. If global warming goes on unchecked, we leave ourselves open to severe risks.”
Days after President Biden told world leaders that his administration is committed to slowing climate change with “action, and not words,” his Interior Department oversaw one of the largest oil and gas lease sales in American history.
Data from the Bureau of Land Management shows that Biden approved more oil and gas drilling permits in his first two years in office than Trump.
From Jan. 20, 2021, to Jan. 19 of this year, the BLM approved 6,430 permits for oil or gas drilling on federal land, compared with 6,172 drilling permits approved during the first two years of the Trump administration.
Despite that statistic, Republicans have routinely criticized Biden over his aversion to selling new oil and gas leases on federal land, which, in addition to the halting of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project, they say resulted in a surge in gasoline prices after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.