No new oil and gas lease sales in Cook Inlet are included in a proposed five-year leasing program published by the federal government Friday.
Part of the 2024-2029 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, the plan includes a historically low number of proposed sales — just three, all to be held in the Gulf of Mexico between 2025 and 2029. The original iteration of the plan, published last summer, also included a sale in Cook Inlet, which would have been held in 2026.
Industry interest was low, however, in the last federal lease sale held in the inlet. Hilcorp Alaska was the only company to submit a bid during the controversial Lease Sale 258, which was held last winter and opened about 960,000 acres of seafloor between Kalgin and Augustine islands to development.
Reaction to the news of Alaska’s exclusion from the proposed plan fell largely along partisan lines.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a Friday press release that the three are the minimum number of sales required to expand the Interior Department’s offshore wind leasing program through 2030 while staying in compliance with the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Proposed Final Program, which represents the smallest number of oil and gas lease sales in history, sets a course for the Department to support the growing offshore wind industry and protect against the potential for environmental damage and adverse impacts to coastal communities,” Haaland said.
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan condemned the exclusion of Cook Inlet from the proposed final plan in a joint press release issued Friday. Both said exclusion of Alaska in the proposed sale threatens U.S. energy security.
Murkowski said the plan shows that President Joe Biden opted to “bend to the whims of extreme environmental groups” instead of looking at the country’s long-term energy needs.
“Leaving Alaska out of this plan is particularly galling and short-sighted,” Murkowski is quoted as saying. “At a time when Southcentral needs new supplies of natural gas, the Biden administration moves to reduce access, leasing, and forces us toward imports of energy that could otherwise be produced in Cook Inlet. Once again, Alaska’s economy is pushed out into the cold.”
Sullivan called the plan “national security suicide” and “an affront to working Americans.”
“Throughout this presidency, Alaskans have been hit the hardest by these failed policies and today’s news is no different: Alaska, one of the most resource-rich places on the planet, may well have to import natural gas from foreign countries because of this administration’s policies and plans for shutting down Alaska’s Cook Inlet,” Sullivan said.
The draft plan had a lukewarm reception with environmental groups, which praised the exclusion of Cook Inlet while criticizing any new oil and gas lease sales.
Cook Inletkeeper Communications Director Bridget Maryott said in a Friday press release that, while the organization is “relieved that Lower Cook Inlet is off the chopping block,” they stand in solidarity with communities in the Gulf of Mexico that are fighting fossil fuel development.
“By locking Americans into decades of increased fossil fuel production, while the climate crisis rages on, this administration has failed to deliver on its promises of environmental justice and climate action by needlessly putting our future at risk for the sake of oil & gas profits,” Maryott said in the release.
Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen made similar comments.
“It’s very important that the Biden administration is scaling back plans for oil and gas leasing, and it’s essential to create the runway for a transition to offshore wind,” Dillen said in a Friday press release. “But this five-year plan also represents a crucial missed opportunity to minimize future oil and gas drilling.”
Per the U.S. Department of the Interior, publication of the proposed final plan kicks off a 60-day waiting period that’s required before Haaland can approve the program. The department will also separately solicit public comments on future sales in the Gulf of Mexico to help determine which blocks in the area are offered for lease.
More information about the proposed sale can be found on the U.S. Department of the Interior website at doi.gov/pressreleases.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.