WASHINGTON – The Biden administration released its latest draft of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program on Friday. This proposal for future drilling off U.S. coastlines updates the 2017-2022 policy issued by the Obama administration and calls for up to 10 new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and potentially one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. In recent history, areas near both sites have been ravaged by oil spills, including the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.
Continuing lease sales for offshore drilling will extend the risk to Gulf ecosystems and communities from oil spills for decades. The Deepwater Horizon spill devastated marine life, ultimately pouring 4 million barrels – or 168 million gallons – of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, killing sea turtles, seabirds and fish, and harming dolphins. Just last year, the oil spill off Huntington Beach, Calif., highlighted that drilling operations can damage beaches and coastal communities decades after a lease is sold.
Offshore drilling’s impacts are not only felt during major, catastrophic oil spills. As Environment America Research & Policy Center found in its 2019 report Offshore Drilling, Onshore Damage, the day-to-day operations required to bring oil to shore also pose risks to coastal ecosystems and communities, from pipelines degrading coastal estuaries to the toxic waste that must be shipped to shore from offshore rigs.
This plan will be published in the Federal Register later this month, kicking off a 90-day public comment period that will allow members of the public to weigh in on the proposed sales. BOEM will also host four virtual meetings to obtain public input during the comment period.
In response, Environment America’s Oceans Campaigns Director Kelsey Lamp issued the following statement:
“America’s history has taught us on far too many occasions that when you drill, you spill. New offshore drilling ultimately signs us up for decades of more risk from oil spills, pollution from refineries and toxic waste brought to shore. Our ocean wildlife and our coastal communities deserve better.
“By proposing as many as 11 new offshore drilling lease sales, President Biden is taking us down the same old path toward more spills and a warmer climate. This plan would lock in long-term risks that, with renewable energy on the rise, we increasingly don’t need. As the country reels from rising gas prices, it’s time to offer solutions that won’t keep us stuck over a barrel. Instead, we ask the Biden administration to change course and make it easier for us to have a cleaner, greener future powered by renewable sources.”