The Biden administration quietly acknowledged in a court filing earlier this week that it won’t issue a final decision on future offshore oil and gas leasing until the end of 2023.
Department of Justice attorneys wrote in the briefing filed late Monday evening that the Interior Department (DOI) won’t be able to publish its highly-anticipated five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan for at least another nine months. The filing came in response to an ongoing lawsuit from fossil fuel industry groups led by the American Petroleum Institute (API), challenging the agency’s delay in issuing the plan.
“Interior is proceeding expeditiously to approve the next Five-Year Program in December 2023, only three months after API’s requested date,” the filing stated. “API has not provided compelling reasons why the Court should accelerate Interior’s timeline.”
Under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the federal government is required to issue plans every five years laying out prospective oil and gas lease sales. The most recent plan, which was implemented in 2017, expired in June.
On July 1, the DOI published a proposal for the five-year plan which laid out multiple options for leasing between 2023 and 2028. The plan included an option with no lease sales during the time span and a maximum option of 11 lease sales. The plan ruled out any lease sales in the Atlantic or Pacific, mainly proposing Gulf of Mexico sales.
The delay in issuing a finalized plan represented a departure from precedent set by both Republican and Democratic administration which historically have finalized replacements immediately after plans expired. The option to hold no lease sales over the course of five years also represented an unprecedented departure.
The most recent two plans, both formulated under the Obama administration, included more than 10 offshore oil and gas lease sales each. The Trump administration sought to hold a total of 47 lease sales across the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska’s coasts between 2022 and 2027.
“The continued, prolonged, and unprecedented delay of the U.S. offshore oil and gas leasing program is injecting substantial and unnecessary uncertainty into the investment outlook for U.S. energy and national security,” said National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Erik Milito. “The U.S. offshore region competes with other offshore regions throughout the world for investment in energy producing projects.”
“Historically, the U.S. has been able to compete effectively under its statutory and regulatory framework,” Milito added. “However, as certainty and predictability has continued to erode as a result of stifling energy policy decisions out of Washington, investment dollars may begin to flow to other producing regions.”
NOIA, which represents both offshore fossil fuel and wind producers, was among the groups to sue the DOI over its delays in issuing a finalized plan. NOIA and API issued a report last year showing that failure to hold more lease sales over the next five years would have a negative impact on jobs, gross domestic product and domestic oil production.
“Beyond its legal requirement, the prompt finalization of an offshore oil and gas leasing program is critical to meeting fundamental energy realities and ensuring Americans have affordable supplies of energy for decades to come,” Milito continued.
In addition, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, blasted the subtle admission from the administration in a scathing statement Wednesday.
“Monday night, the Department of the Interior made it painfully clear – again – that they are putting their radical climate agenda ahead of our nation’s energy security, and they are willing to go to great lengths to do it,” Manchin stated. “The earliest that Interior will release a legally required program for 2023-2028 offshore oil and gas leasing will be the end of this year. That’s 18 months late.”
“This is the first time in our nation’s history that we haven’t had a five-year leasing program released before the old plan expired,” he continued. “Every other administration, Democrat and Republican, has managed to follow the law in a timely fashion. Let me be clear – this is not optional. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act mandates that the secretary of the Interior ‘shall prepare’ this program to ‘best meet national energy needs.'”
“What is even more terrifying is that on top of this disturbing timeline, Interior refuses to confirm if they intend to actually include any lease sales in the final plan.”
A DOI spokesperson told Fox News Digital the filing speaks for itself.