Interior Dept. Invites Public Comment on Proposed Offshore Oil, Gas Leasing

Interior Department officials are accepting public comment for 90 days after a proposed offshore oil and gas lease sale for Alaska’s Cook Inlet, and up to 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, are published in the Federal Register.

All sales are set to take place between 2023 and 2028.

The July 1 announcement from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland noted that a proposed plan is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development, but instead, is an opportunity for interested parties to weigh in on future offshore oil and gas leasing.

“This is the second step in a three-step planning process to determine whether or how many offshore oil and gas lease sales to hold over the next five years,” Haaland said.

The Biden administration has made clear its commitment to transition to a clean energy economy, and the public comment period is a way for the public to weigh in, she said.

Cook Inlet is an important commercial sport, personal use and subsistence fishery, which attracts thousands of harvesters annually, employs several thousand people and contributes significantly to the regional and state economy.

This past spring, the Interior Department cancelled Cook Inlet Lease Sale 258, which was included in the 2017-2022 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, citing lack of industry interest.

Environmental groups, harvesters and local advocates were quick to voice their opposition to the Interior Department’s latest action.

Campaign director Diane Hoskins of the environmental group Oceana expressed disappointment that the Biden administration is considering new lease sales.

“The inevitable conclusion must be finalizing a program that ends new leasing for offshore drilling,” she commented. “New leases are incompatible with efforts to address the climate crisis and won’t help lower gas prices. We know that more leasing for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling and spilling threatens our ocean climate and economy.”

“Lower Cook Inlet is a unique and vibrant marine ecosystem that is a critical nutrient source for the Gulf of Alaska, which is experiencing unprecedented stress from climate change,” commercial harvester Josh Wisniewski of Seldovia, Alaska said. “We will need to pursue a permanent withdrawal of the Cook Inlet lease area from this and all future proposed plans.”

Liz Mering, advocacy director for Cook Inlet, in Homer, Alaska, said leases would have no impact on the area’s heating or fuel costs.

“We are at a critical juncture in the climate-change crisis and must not start 40 more years of carbon-based fuel production in Lower Cook Inlet at the expense of local and sustainable economies of fishing and tourism,” she remarked. “Alaskans have opposed drilling in these waters for decades and will stand up again today.”

Karen Moriarty, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, was not available for comment.