The Biden administration on Friday proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the Alaska coast over the next five years, scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities, including in undeveloped areas.
Administration officials said fewer lease sales — or even no lease sales at all — could occur, with a final decision not due for months.
The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January because of climate concerns but was forced to resume them by a U.S. district judge in Louisiana. The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings about that decision when it canceled the last three lease sales of the previous offshore leasing cycle.
That prior five-year cycle, a program adopted under former President Obama, expired Thursday.
There will be a months-long gap before a new plan can be put in place. The oil industry says the delay could cause problems and potentially lead to decreased oil production if sales are significantly delayed.
But Friday’s announcement is a disappointment to environmentalists who rallied around then-candidate Joe Biden when he promised to end new drilling in federal lands and waters.
Under the Trump administration, Interior officials had proposed 47 sales, including 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 19 in Alaska and nine off the Atlantic Coast that were later withdrawn. Trump lost the 2020 election before the proposal was finalized.
The current format of holding gulf-wide sales was put in place under Obama because of dwindling interest in offshore leases. Prior to that there had been decades of regional sales.
Friday’s announcement opens a 90-day public comment period, then a final plan must be submitted to Congress.