In the first Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) oil and gas lease sale under the Biden Administration, energy companies bid on 308 tracts covering nearing 2,700 square miles and offered a combined $192 million for federal oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
Live-streamed from New Orleans on November 17, 2021, Lease Sale 257 was the eighth offshore sale under the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program and marked the largest acreage and second-highest combined bid total under the 2017-2022 Program.
Initially scheduled by the Trump Administration for March 2021, Lease Sale 257 was cancelled in February 2021 in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14008. Thirteen states, including Louisiana, jointly sued President Biden and the Interior Department in March 2021 in Louisiana federal court to undo the executive order. Ruling in favor of the States, the court ruled that “[t]he omission of any rational explanation in cancelling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim.” In response, BOEM rescheduled the lease sale for November 17, 2021.
Chevron, the top bidder, successfully bid almost $49 million for 34 tracts. BP bid $30 million for 46 tracts, and Shell Offshore successfully bid almost $18 million for 20 tracts. Anadarko successfully bid almost $40 million for 30 tracts, including the day’s highest bid of $10 million. Further sale statistics can be found at https://www.boem.gov/Sale-257.
Industry analysts stated that the heightened interest in Lease Sale 257 was driven by the present rebound in oil prices and remaining uncertainty about the future of the leasing program, noting that the Administration is still continuing its comprehensive review of the alleged deficiencies associated with offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programs as promised in Biden’s 2020 campaign efforts.
According to the Associated Press, a 2017 review of the environmental impacts of a lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, conducted by the Trump Administration and affirmed by the BOEM under the Biden Administration this past August, had concluded that extracting and burning the fuel from OCS leases would result in fewer climate-changing emissions than leaving it in the ground. Laura Daniel-Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Mineral Management, defended the EIS, stating “[t]he potential impacts of GHG emissions from foreign oil consumption are not inconsistent with conclusions from” this review. To put it more directly, a reduction in U.S. production likely will have the unintended consequence of boosting production in parts of the world where environmental restrictions on production are far less stringent than in the United States, likely increasing overall climate-changing emissions.
The Department of the Interior estimated that Lease Sale 257 will produce up to 1.12 billion barrels of oil and 4.42 trillion feet of gas. However, it will take years to develop the leases before companies start pumping crude, meaning that energy companies could be producing long past 2030.
BOEM’s present 2017–2022 Program is set to expire at the end of 2022. In January 2018, BOEM, under the Trump Administration, announced the availability of and request for comments for the 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, as well as BOEM’s decision to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2019-2024 Program. The drafted 2019-2024 Leasing Program would, in part, replace the last three years of the existing 2017-2022 Leasing Program, drafted and approved by the Obama Administration. As of today, the draft 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program has yet to be finalized, and the Biden Administration has made no indication as to the future of the proposed 2019-2024 Leasing Program nor any alternative five-year leasing program. It remains to be seen how the uncertainty of future Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Programs will affect both future commodity prices and overall global emissions.