Biden plans to sell offshore drilling rights in Gulf of Mexico to ensure steady U.S. oil development

Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg September 28, 2023

(Bloomberg) – The Biden administration is charting plans to sell offshore oil drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years.

The Interior Department ruled out adopting an offshore oil leasing plan that completely blocked auctions through late 2028, according to people familiar with the deliberations who declined to be named because the measure is not yet public.

Oil industry advocates had pushed for a robust sale schedule to ensure steady development and oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, which provides roughly 15% of U.S. crude output today.

The release comes at a time of dwindling crude stockpiles and with oil futures approaching $100 a bbl. It would take years for any new leases to lead to exploratory drilling, much less actual crude oil production.

A major factor in the administration’s decision was an Inflation Reduction Act provision blocking the Interior Department from issuing new offshore wind leases unless in the prior year it had held an oil lease sale putting at least 60 million acres up for grabs. The requirement developed by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, was seen tying the agency’s hands and forcing at least one oil auction to allow future sales of wind rights in the Gulf of Maine and off the Oregon coast.

White House and Interior Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau on Thursday told a Senate panel the five-year program “is definitely informed by the IRA and the connection the IRA makes between offshore oil and gas leasing and renewable energy leasing.”

The plan will be published on Friday, Beaudreau said. At that point, Congress would have 60 days to review the blueprint and advance legislation making changes.

The schedule is a legally required precursor to leasing offshore waters for oil development; this one is set to govern potential sales through late 2028. While a different, future administration could seek to alter course, the blueprint itself takes years to develop, defying quick pivots.

An earlier Biden administration proposal left the door open for as many as 11 auctions of offshore oil and gas leases — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The previous Obama-era plan, which expired June 30 of last year, also contained 11 sales.

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