Plans to sell three offshore drilling leases in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico have been put on hold by the Biden administration.
Department of Interior (DOI) spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said the decision is due to many reasons, including a “lack of interest” from oil companies and “legal obstacles.”
“Due to lack of industry interest in leasing in the area, the Department will not move forward with the proposed Cook Inlet OCS oil and gas lease sale 258,” Schwartz said Thursday.
“The Department also will not move forward with lease sales 259 and 261 in the Gulf of Mexico region, as a result of delays due to factors including conflicting court rulings that impacted work on these proposed lease sales,” she continued.
Schwartz added that “there are 10.9 million acres of offshore federal waters already under lease to industry,” and “of those, the industry is not producing on more than three-quarters (75.7% or 8.26 million acres).”
According to Reuters, the planned sales would have been the final leases granted under a five-year program for leasing in federal waters on the outer continental shelf. That program expires in June, and it is expected the administration will let it do so without devising a new plan to replace it.
President Joe Biden paused offshore drilling lease auctions shortly after taking office and ordered an analysis of their environmental impacts and value. Last June, a federal judge in Louisiana ordered a resumption of auctions.
In November, the DOI subsequently held an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, but a court order later vacated that auction, saying it had failed to account for its impact on climate change.
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife, and oceans for Earthjustice, told CBS News it would have been more than 10 years before the planned leases would influence 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 proponents are of the opposite opinion.
Frank Macchairola, a top official with the American Petroleum Institute, slammed the Biden administration’s decision to suspend the lease sales, calling it “another example of the administration’s lack of commitment to oil and gas development in the U.S.”
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Mike Berg cited the nation’s already record-high gas prices to criticize the decision saying that “Democrats seem intent on making the problem worse.”
The announcement comes as gas prices nationwide reach a record high. The average cost for regular gas in the U.S. hit an all-time high at $4.37 a gallon on Tuesday, beating the previous record set in early March.