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Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Policy & Politics

Interior Nixes Oil & Gas Lease Sales in Alaska & Gulf of Mexico

In a big win for Alaskan and Gulf of Mexico communities, the Department of Interior is cancelling three oil and gas lease sales off the coasts of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. The leases would have opened up more than a million acres for development in vibrant oceans ecosystems that are vital to threatened and endangered species, fishermen, Native peoples, and many others.

This comes at a time when industry is doubling down, opportunistically, on its efforts to expand offshore leasing, and profiteering and gouging the public in response to the global energy crisis set off by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Among industry’s most misleading claims is that expanding leasing will address the current spike in gas prices. That’s bonkers. We do not need more leasing — industry is sitting on 11 million acres of ocean already leased for drilling and is using less than a quarter of it — and new leases would not yield more supply for at least a decade, which is no help to consumers at the pump this year.

Interior’s move away from dirty energy is a key step; next it should commit to no new offshore leasing and investing in a clean energy future. Existing production allows us to meet our energy needs for the next decade. More drilling today will not make gas any cheaper for consumers, while costing us billions of dollars in climate change-related damages and public health impacts.

The Cook Inlet and Gulf Leases

Last year, NRDC, along with partners, formally opposed the lease sale scheduled to take place in Cook Inlet, Alaska and called on Interior to cancel the sale. Further development in the region would have affected species like the endangered beluga whale, as well as Native communities and fishermen who rely on a healthy ocean. Allowing that leasing would also have increased the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate disasters, in a state already deeply affected by the climate crisis. Alaska is warming faster than any other state in the U.S., experiencing extreme weather events. Its valuable businesses, like the cod and salmon fisheries, have been curtailed by a changing climate. The environmental review for the lease sale was not robust enough.  It failed to adequately account for these and other effects of oil and gas development in the region, and scrapping Lease Sale 258 is a smart move.

NRDC has also opposed continued development in the Gulf of Mexico, which unjustly harms the health of communities in the region and poses unacceptable risks to ocean ecosystems. After decades of offshore oil development, onshore refining, and chemical manufacturing, the health of communities around the Gulf region is suffering. The critically endangered Rice’s whale inhabits these waters, as well as other vulnerable and protected species. The Gulf of Mexico is also known for a whole range of valuable commercial fisheries, from shrimping in Bayou La Batre to a fantastic array of oysters and other seafood. The Gulf is still recovering from the catastrophic BP oil spill, and continued exploitation of offshore oil perpetuates the risk of another crisis. It is time to stop treating the Gulf of Mexico as a sacrifice zone for the country’s dirty and dangerous oil and gas addiction, and to accelerate the shift to clean energy.

DOI Should Commit to No New Leases

As my NRDC colleague Lauren Kubiak has written, our oil reserves and existing oil and gas leases supply more than enough energy to meet our current energy needs. And, as our senior Oceans strategist Sarah Chasis and I have written, the Department of Interior has ample authority to shape the nation’s offshore energy program to move away from fossil fuels and advance renewable energy sources.

We expect the Department of Interior to release its five-year plan for offshore oil and gas development in the next month. It is time for the U.S. to commit to no new offshore oil and gas leasing and to invest in the clean energy future that we — and our planet — need.

Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog. By Irene Gutierrez

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