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Battle for Access to Offshore Resources Continues

Analysis by Energy Workforce President Tim Tarpley

offshore
Energy Workforce President Tim Tarpley

On Friday of last week, after more than a year of delays and bureaucratic slowdowns, the Biden Administration finally released its five-year offshore leasing plan.

It was immediately clear that the Administration was going to continue limiting access to American resources. The Administration will hold three offshore oil lease sales between now and 2029, equating to the lowest number of auctions in the program’s history. In fact, according to the plan, no lease sales will occur at all in 2024. This will be the first time in the program’s four-decade history that no lease sales will occur at all.

Under the plan, the department would schedule one sale each for 2025, 2027 and 2029. This represents a sharp departure from the previous plan’s 11 lease sales. Also of particular note, these limited number of lease sales are the bare minimum that can be held under the mandate from the Inflation Reduction Act in order for the Administration to meet the requirements to continue pursuing offshore wind projects.

The Administration will now hold for 60 days until Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is expected to formally approve the plan. While this release comes as very bad news, it is not entirely unexpected. The Administration has used a variety of delay tactics to slow the release of the new five-year plan and has indicated that if left to their own devices, they would choose to hold no offshore lease sales at all.

Criticism of the proposal has been harsh, with additional pushback and legislative options to force additional lease sales likely. On Thursday of last week, before the Interior announcement, I testified at a House Natural Resources EMR subcommittee hearing in support of H.R. 5616, the BRIDGE Production Act of 2023 introduced by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA-6).

The legislation would mandate at least four lease sales, notwithstanding the five-year plan. The next steps for the legislation would be a full committee markup and then potentially legislative action in the House. While it currently appears unlikely that such a piece of legislation could see action in the Senate, given the rising price of oil and the focus on energy security given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is not out of the question that a number of Democrats could decide to support such a piece of legislation. We can expect the debate over this plan to be a key driver in the greater debate over U.S. energy policy as we move into the next election cycle.

Energy Workforce will continue to support all legislative and procedural options to ensure that the American people are given full access to their resources offshore as they are legally entitled.


Tim Tarpley, Energy Workforce President, analyzes federal policy for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. Click here to subscribe to the Energy Workforce newsletter, which highlights sector-specific issues, best practices, activities and more.


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