Public Comment Needed on Oil and Gas Leasing Proposal

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released a proposed offshore oil and gas leasing program that schedules up to 11 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The comment period officially opened last Friday, July 8th, offering the public 90 days to comment on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. BOEM will then finalize and release a final leasing program sometime after the end of the year. (For more information about the five-year planning process, see Valerie’s blog here.

Burning gas flares on offshore drilling rigs in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Paul Souders/Getty Images

First the bad news: if BOEM moves forward and finalizes an offshore drilling program with anywhere close to the 11 lease sales–or really any lease sales at all this would be terrible for climate and a travesty for the affected communities in the Gulf and Alaska. (For more see our issue brief and Lauren’s blog.) Continuing to expand offshore leasing creates additional hurdles for meeting the nation’s climate change treaty commitments and maintaining warming below what scientists have told us is necessary to stave off the worst climate harms. And it would do nothing to alleviate high energy prices–it takes at least ten years for oil from new offshore leases to reach the market.

Such a drilling plan would be business-as-usual when the nation and the planet need anything but business-as-usual. 

We’ve seen some news stories focus on the fact that this plan is not considering the Atlantic and Pacific for offshore leasing and that should be considered as a victory for the environment. That’s absurd. With the exception of Trump’s outrageous and aberrational draft proposed program that opened up almost all our coasts to offshore drilling, there is not a real threat of offshore drilling happening in the Atlantic or Pacific. Even President Trump abandoned his proposal after the American public voiced their strong opposition, and subsequently withdrew the South Atlantic and Florida’s West Coast from leasing for ten years. 

But the drilling threat is very real for the Gulf Coast and Alaska, and comes at a time when we are facing a climate and biodiversity crisis alongside a reckoning with our history of environmental injustice. We cannot afford new offshore leasing that locks us into decades of drilling and pollution. With the impacts to our planet, wildlife, and communities from global warming, the harm to nearby communities, and the risks of catastrophic oil spills, it’s all too high a price to pay. 

Now the good news: BOEM has also said that it’s also considering offering no new offshore leasing as part of this plan. This is why this 90-day public comment period is so critical: The public has a chance to weigh in on this proposed program and ask for a clean energy future, not one tied to fossil fuels. There are two ways to weigh in:

1. Submit a comment through the federal register; and/or

2. Testify in a public listening session. There are four virtual sessions scheduled for August.

The Biden administration still has a chance to do the right thing on offshore oil and gas - but they need to hear loud and clear from us. Industry is already sitting on the rights to drill across 11 million acres of ocean—and only using a quarter of that. New offshore leasing will do nothing to alleviate current high oil and gas prices. Ending leasing altogether will have no impact on gasoline prices until the 2030s, and then could only be 1-2 cents per gallon higher than a reference case that assumes continued leasing, according to two recent analyses. As a country, we are moving toward clean energy, electrifying the transportation sector, and investing in renewable energy and efficiency across the board. These trends and the policies driving them are projected to lower demand for transportation fuels significantly. In other words, we won’t need this oil – or the ecological and climate harms that come with it. 

Right now, we need the Biden administration to focus on creating a just and equitable transition to clean energy with good paying jobs that won’t harm people and threaten future generations – not giving the fossil fuel industry more of our ocean for drilling.

Join us in taking action by asking for a five-year program with no new offshore oil and gas leases.

About the Authors

Valerie Cleland

Oceans Advocate, Nature Program

Lauren Kubiak

Senior Policy Analyst, Oceans Division, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.