The Biden administration has announced plans to approve just three offshore oil and gas lease sales through 2029, the smallest offshore drilling plan in history. The decision is seen as a compromise between Biden’s climate agenda and the need to comply with limits set by a divided Congress. The plan aims to support the development of the offshore wind industry while minimizing potential environmental damage and adverse impacts on coastal communities. The administration will delay new oil lease sales until 2025 and will only lease in the Gulf of Mexico, aiming to limit fossil fuel production and achieve zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This decision reflects the challenges Biden faces in balancing his climate goals with the realities of divided government. Although he pledged during his 2020 campaign to end new offshore oil projects, Congress tied the fate of offshore wind development to approval of new oil leases in a landmark climate bill last year. The administration argues that the plan meets its legal mandates while still transitioning away from fossil fuels. However, the decision is likely to draw criticism from both environmental groups, who view it as prioritizing polluters, and the oil industry, which believes it restricts domestic energy security.
The three-sale plan announced by the administration is significantly smaller than previous plans, with no five-year plan since 1992 having fewer than 11 lease sales. The proposed lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico are where oil and gas companies already have operations. While Gulf of Mexico oil has a lower climate impact compared to imported oil, offshore drilling remains unpopular due to incidents like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The administration’s handling of fossil fuel projects has become an issue for Biden and Democrats ahead of the 2024 election, as some fear losing support from climate-concerned voters. However, the American Clean Power Association, a wind and solar industry group, supports the decision and urges the administration to expedite the leasing process for offshore wind projects.