Interior Department Cancels Oil and Gas Lease Sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet

Cook Inlet
A map of Alaska’s Cook Inlet. Image via U.S. Geological Survey.

U.S. Interior Department officials have cancelled an oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, citing “a lack of industry interest in leasing in the area.” The announcement prompted kudos from environmentalists and fishermen and strong criticism from Alaska’s two Republican senators.

“(D)ue to lack of industry interest in leasing in the area, the department will not move forward with the proposed Cook Inlet OCS oil and gas lease sale 258,” the official announcement from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on not holding the lease sale in Lower Cook Inlet states.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management previously canceled Cook Inlet lease sales in 2007, 2008 and 2011, also citing a lack of industry interest.

Veteran journalist Larry Persily, a former federal coordinator for an Alaska gas line project, said there was not any overwhelming industry interest in the lease sale.

“The industry wasn’t dying for this one anyhow,” Persily said. “And being offshore, it would have taken a decade to get the oil and gas out, and by then the crisis would be over.”

Holding the lease sale for Lower Cook Inlet wouldn’t do anything to solve current gas prices at the pump in the Lower 48 either, he added. On the environmental side, Persily said there’s always a risk drilling offshore in an area that’s as important for fishing as Cook Inlet is.

Liz Mering, advocacy director at Cook Inletkeeper in Homer, Alaska, said the Interior Department’s decision would protect the area’s sustainable fisheries economy by not locking Cook Inlet into 40-plus years of exploration and drilling for carbon-based fuels, a critical step in combatting the climate crisis.

Veteran Lower Cook Inlet commercial fisherman Josh Wisniewski also praised the decision, saying “our fisheries, our quality of life and regional economy depend on the health of this wild landscape we are privileged to live in.”

However, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, said that the Biden Administration had falsely claimed that industry had no interest in leasing in the Cook Inlet Basin.

“Citing a ‘lack of industry interest’ is nothing more than fantasy from an administration that shuns U.S. energy production,” Murkowski said. “Cook Inlet is the sole source of the natural gas that more than 400,000 people in Southcentral Alaska – and significant military bases that are critical to our national security – depend on.”

Sullivan noted that President Biden has said that he’s doing ‘everything in his power’ to bring down historically high energy prices.

“The administration’s announcement that it will cancel these lease sales is just more proof that he is not,” Sullivan said.