The US Interior Department today announced that an oil and gas lease sale for Alaska’s Cook Inlet will take place on December 30 – a concession made to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) so that he’d vote for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Oil and gas lease sale in Alaska
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a final notice of sale today for 958,202 acres off Alaska’s south central coast. The IRA directed BOEM to hold the sale by December 31, 2022.
In May, BOEM canceled the Cook Inlet sale, along with two Gulf of Mexico lease sales, citing lack of interest. Congress then directed BOEM to carry out the sale by the end of 2022.
In July, Manchin announced that he’d reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to vote for the groundbreaking $370 billion IRA climate bill.
In order to secure fossil-fuel advocate Manchin’s vote in the Senate, Schumer had to concede to Manchin’s demand that these oil and gas lease sales be resurrected alongside the escalation of clean energy deployment. Manchin said in a statement on July 27:
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 invests in the technologies needed for all fuel types – from hydrogen, nuclear, renewables, fossil fuels and energy storage – to be produced and used in the cleanest way possible. It is truly all of the above, which means this bill does not arbitrarily shut off our abundant fossil fuels. It invests heavily in technologies to help us reduce our domestic methane and carbon emissions and also helps decarbonize around the world as we displace dirtier products.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order that suspended new oil and gas lease sales in his first week in office. In March 2022, a federal court blocked Biden’s executive order. This is now the second oil and gas lease sale that the Biden administration has had to carry out.
On November 22, environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice wrote that there were alternate paths to the Cook Inlet and Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sales, and it’s actively campaigning to stop the Cook Inlet sale.
Steve Mashuda, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Oceans program, said:
Legal scrutiny of the IRA shows that it does not bind us to fossil-fuel interests to the extent that many might believe.
While the IRA does require three offshore lease sales to be held, Interior has the responsibility and the discretion to make the right choices here: It should, for example, decide that any leases be conditioned with measures that protect people and wildlife and that limit greenhouse gases emitted from the resulting industrial activity.
It would be better to have no more oil and gas lease sales, but we feel the Cook Inlet sale is not one to get seriously worried about. Earlier in the year, there was very little interest.
A lot of fossil fuel lease sales are procedural, and this may also be the case for Cook Inlet. The oil companies are sitting on roughly half of unused US public leases, and they’re not drilling due to lack of access to financing and supply chain shortages. We don’t see either of those things changing anytime soon. And if they do, chances are good that drilling won’t make sense financially, due to renewables becoming ever more inexpensive.
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