Interior finalizes Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale ordered by Democratic law

Biden Oil Leasing
FILE – A man wears a face mark as he fishes near docked oil drilling platforms, on May 8, 2020, in Port Aransas, Texas. A federal court has rejected a proposed lease auction for offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, saying the Biden administration failed to conduct a proper environmental review. The decision on Jan. 27, 2022, by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras sends the proposed lease sale back to the Interior Department to decide next steps. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) Eric Gay/AP

Interior finalizes Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale ordered by Democratic law

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The Interior Department finalized plans to hold its next offshore oil and gas lease sale in March, one of three lease sales to be ordered by Democrats’ energy and healthcare spending law passed in August.

The previously canceled Gulf of Mexico lease sale will be the first for the region since November 2021, when Interior auctioned off more than 80 million acres in the largest-ever offshore oil and gas lease sale. It comes as the administration is under pressure from environmental groups to cease leasing federal acreage to thwart climate change.

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Interior will make 73.3 million acres of federal tracts in the Gulf of Mexico available to bidders in the sale, known as Lease Sale 259, which will be held on March 29, according to a final sale notice announced on Friday.

Lease Sale 259, along with one other Gulf sale and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, were resurrected by the Inflation Reduction Act at the insistence of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) after Interior canceled them in May 2022, citing a lack of industry interest and ongoing litigation over leasing.

Interior held the Cook Inlet lease sale in December, while the other Gulf of Mexico lease sale must be held by the end of September.

Oil and gas leasing is a priority of Manchin’s, who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and demanded that the leasing provisions be included in the Democratic legislation.

Agreeing to the provisions was a considerable concession for other members of his party to make, including President Joe Biden, where opposition against new leasing has been strong.

The Inflation Reduction Act added new import to oil and gas leasing as it made the issuance of leases for offshore wind projects conditional on continued leasing for fossil fuels offshore. Wind leasing is a leading priority of the administration, which just proposed the first-ever wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Biden entered the White House having pledged new restrictions on oil and gas leasing and ordered a “pause” on new leasing during his first week in office.

A federal judge later put that order on hold, and the administration commenced with its first and only offshore oil and gas lease sale in November 2021.

Environmental groups widely oppose leasing and have urged the administration not to make additional acreage available to limit climate change.

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The oil and gas industry and many Republicans have criticized Biden for not opening up more acreage to developers.

The Biden administration has yet to finalize its plan for oil and gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf, although it has proposed holding between zero and 11 new lease sales from this year until 2028.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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