By Heather Richards
Three oil and gas moves this week could reveal how President Joe Biden’s Interior Department plans to shape the federal fossil fuels program amid tense political fights over inflationary energy prices.
Environmental activists are drafting lawsuits as the Biden administration prepares today to sell its first leases to drill on public land. Later in the week, Interior is slated to unveil the federal government’s draft plan for offshore oil and gas auctions over the next five years.
Additionally, Interior could release its verdict this week on the Willow project, a controversial $6 billion oil and gas development proposed by ConocoPhillips on federal lands that will weigh heavily on the future of oil development in the western Arctic.
The federal oil program — which represents about 22 percent of national supply — has been a thorn in Biden’s side, with climate advocates increasingly frustrated that the White House has failed to stem drilling on public lands and waters, while GOP leaders slam the president for climate priorities they’ve tried to link to high energy prices. Despite the focus on the program, the Biden administration’s approach has been decidedly incremental, slowly rolling out policy changes.
Ahead of the onshore lease sales, activists said legal challenges will soon follow.
The administration is under pressure to lease in part due to GOP criticisms that the federal oil program is an asset that should be deployed to keep energy markets stable. The United States is the largest oil producer in the world, and the Gulf supplies about 15 percent of national production.
But Ryan Kellogg, with the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, said the current price environment shouldn’t play a role in the offshore leasing plan.
“Offshore oil and gas projects take a long time to come to fruition, and it is anybody’s guess what oil prices will be 5 to 10 years from now,” he said.