ADVOCATE: Joe Biden satisfies nobody with restrictive oil lease sale in the Gulf
When it comes to displeasing both sides on a controversial issue, President Joe Biden has a gift. Words like “disgusting” and “betrayal” have come from the environmental community at the news the administration is proposing three lease sales for future oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
But the oil and gas industry is “disappointed,” too.“Independent analysis shows that oil and natural gas are going to play an important role in fulfilling U.S. energy needs for the foreseeable future,” said Tommy Faucheux of Louisiana Mid-Continent, a major industry group. “This approach to energy policy will hinder investment in the least carbon-intensive oil and gas region in the world, therefore shifting energy development to other parts of the world resulting in increased emissions.”
That last point is important, but the topline debate about the new lease sales involves the political waffling that the Biden administration’s split personality on energy provokes over and over again.
The leases would, if paid for by energy companies, allow drilling in three areas until 2029. It is the smallest number of lease sales offered in a five-year plan since the federal drilling program began decades ago. While environmental groups say that the Biden administration should follow through with the president’s campaign pledge to end drilling leases, the same president also supported the so-called Inflation Reduction Act — which relied on a compromise with industry advocate Joe Manchin of West Virginia to pass in the narrowly divided Senate.
The Interior Department has construed the law’s mandate in the narrowest possible way, limiting sales to three areas in the central and western Gulf. Its rationale is that the new leases are mandated to clear the legal path toward more wind energy leases in the Gulf. We suspect that those would happen anyway, as wind power — still in its nascent stages — is a welcome part of a more comprehensive “all of the above” energy policy. But the notion of sharply curtailing, or ending, traditional sources of energy is naive. A U.S. Geological Survey study found that consumption of oil and gas from the Gulf generated about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Left unsaid by advocates is what would happen to the U.S. economy, and the world’s, if that energy were not available now and in the future.
A judicious path forward was outlined by Samantha Gross for the Brookings Institution, who also noted that Gulf drilling operations are less carbon-intensive than elsewhere. In a global energy marketplace, demanding more energy and not less, the dirtier sources would fill in for the Gulf. Gross argued that a reduction in consumption is needed, which encompasses everything from encouraging a switch to electric vehicles to promoting more walking and biking — basically changing the American pattern of life. It's harder work than a blanket ban on drilling, but probably more realistic now and in the future.