Manchin, Kelly urge Biden to open new Gulf oil leasing

By Heather Richards | 04/01/2022 04:08 PM EDT

The Democratic senators want the Biden administration to draw up its new five-year plan for leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. The current plan expires this summer.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is pushing the administration on oil and gas lease sale plans. Francis Chung/E&E News

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Kelly of Arizona are urging the Biden administration to develop a new five-year oil and gas leasing plan in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a letter yesterday to President Joe Biden, the lawmakers argued that a new schedule for the sale of federal oil and gas drilling rights in the Gulf would help ease high energy prices.

“Increasing domestic oil production to meet demand is a critical step to lowering gas prices and reducing our reliance on foreign sources,” Manchin and Kelly wrote.


Tapping the Gulf of Mexico should “enable the United States to become more energy independent to meet emerging geopolitical threats,” the letter states.

The current five-year plan, inked under President Barack Obama, expires in June, but the Biden administration has yet to release details on what comes next.

A Trump administration plan to allow greater oil and gas development in untapped waters in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans fell apart after sparking significant resistance from coastal states and a legal battle over potential drilling in waters protected by an Obama-era moratorium. A revised five-year proposal was never released (Energywire, Jan. 5, 2018).

The Biden administration froze new oil and gas leasing last year during a review of the federal oil and gas program. It was forced to restart leasing by a federal judge, but its first and only oil auction — in the Gulf of Mexico in November — was overturned by a different judge for not doing a strong enough assessment of climate impacts.

The administration has not appealed that ruling.

Manchin and Kelly’s letter echoes recent critiques from GOP lawmakers that the Biden administration is slow walking the national leasing program, while also pushing the oil and gas industry to drill more to combat high prices (E&E Daily, April 1).

New leasing, or leasing plans, would not have an immediate impact on the global oil supply or the current price hike, experts agree. But industry has warned that a lapse in the offshore oil and gas plan may be unprecedented and have long-term consequences for production and federal revenue (E&E News PM, March 29).

Melissa Schwartz, an Interior Department spokesperson, last week said a new five-year plan was being “actively” developed. She also noted that 76 percent of leased offshore acreage is “unused and nonproducing.”

Biden and Democrats have blamed oil and gas companies for not drilling more to depress prices and alleged intentional price gouging to boost profits. Biden, yesterday, announced a 180-million-barrel release of national oil reserves over the next six months to combat the price pains from the oil shortage.

The lawmakers’ letter also argues that the sale of Gulf oil and gas leases is consistent with Biden’s climate goals, noting that direct emissions from offshore production is less than other regions.

“Allowing energy projects to languish in court or remain suspended in years of bureaucratic limbo is not addressing the pain at the pump or the climate crisis,” they said. “The United States can and should increase its renewable energy production and lower its greenhouse gas emissions, but this must occur responsibly, pragmatically, and through an all-of-the-above energy approach that takes advantage of our resources at home.”