Environmentalists hit out as Biden sneaks news of potential drilling in Gulf, Alaska before holiday weekend

·2 min read
Unused oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 (REUTERS)
Unused oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 (REUTERS)

Environmentalists hit out at the White House after the US Department of the Interior released a proposed five-year plan for offshore drilling on Friday, ahead of the 4 July holiday weekend.

In the plan, the agency has slimmed down a prior draft released during the Trump administration to 11 potential leases between 2023 and 2028, down from 47.

One environmental group was quick to criticise the proposal, however.

“The Biden administration had an opportunity to meet the moment on climate and end new offshore oil leasing in Interior’s five-year program,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at the non-profit Earthjustice via a statement.

“Instead, its proposal to serve up a bunch of new offshore oil lease sales is a failure of climate leadership and a breach of their climate promises.”

The proposal includes up to 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, with none in the Atlantic or Pacific. The previous draft, released during the Trump administration, had 47 potential sales in Alaska and the Gulf, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific.

“The proposed plan puts forward several options from no lease sales up to 11 lease sales over the next five years,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a press statement.

“A Proposed Program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development,” she added.

Prices are displayed on a gas pump outside of a gas station in Washington, DC, on June 14, 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)
Prices are displayed on a gas pump outside of a gas station in Washington, DC, on June 14, 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

The proposal comes the same week as the Supreme Court curtailed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, seen as a setback for climate action.

The announcement on Friday sets a public comment period lasting for three months before the plan is presented to Congress.

Skyrocketing gas prices have put pressure on the Biden administration to explore additional measures to ease the pain at the pump ahead of the crucial 2022 midterm elections. Still, Secretary Haaland added in her statement that the Biden administration is committed to a clean energy future.

“From Day One, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition 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. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now.”