Why Biden’s offshore energy plan has angered environmentalists as well as the oil industry

Photo illustration showing President Biden and images of oil rigs.

Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis via Getty Images, Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images, Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration released its four-year plan for offshore energy production on Friday, angering environmentalists and conservatives alike.

While the plan includes three new leases for oil drilling on federal land, it also significantly boosts the construction of offshore wind turbines, setting aside 11 new areas for leasing.

As the U.S. continues its transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy in order to try to combat climate change, Yahoo News unpacks some of the questions readers may have about the plan.

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Why environmentalists aren’t happy

A protester holds a sign in front of the White House that reads

An activist holds a sign in front of the White House to protest the Department of Interior’s plan for offshore oil and gas drilling. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)

Climate change activists say that preventing catastrophic climate change means leaving the vast majority of remaining fossil fuels underground. They also believe the social costs of offshore drilling, which can cause devastating oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, are too great.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden pledged to end all new federal fossil fuel leasing, so the new plan’s inclusion of three new drilling leases has been seen by some as a betrayal of that promise.

“It’s very important that the Biden administration is scaling back plans for oil and gas leasing, and it’s essential to create the runway for a transition to offshore wind. But this five-year plan also represents a crucial missed opportunity to minimize future oil and gas drilling. We are too far along in the climate crisis to be committing ourselves to decades of new fossil fuel extraction, especially following the hottest summer in recorded history,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen.

Why there is oil leasing in the plan

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, speaks during a committee hearing in May. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In order to secure the crucial vote of Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, last year’s Inflation Reduction Act included a requirement that the Department of the Interior offer 60 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases each year before it can offer offshore wind leases. The administration says it needed to offer these three offshore plots in order to fulfill the law’s requirement.

“The Proposed Final Program, which represents the smallest number of oil and gas lease sales in history, sets a course for the Department to support the growing offshore wind industry and protect against the potential for environmental damage and adverse impacts to coastal communities,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.

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Earthjustice contends that only one of the three offshore lease sales was needed to meet the requirement because there is ongoing leasing on federal land.

All three lease sales will be in the Gulf of Mexico. There is no new leasing in the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic Oceans.

Why the oil industry is also unhappy

An oil rig and supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico off the cost of Louisiana.

An oil rig and supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico off the cost of Louisiana. (Gerald Herbert/AP) (AP)

They contend that reducing domestic oil production will increase gasoline prices and stifle demand.

“At a time when inflation runs rampant across the country, the Biden administration is choosing failed energy policies that are adding to the pain Americans are feeling at the pump,” said American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers.

Oil is sold on a global market, however, so experts say the amount of U.S. oil drilling doesn’t much affect the price Americans pay for gas.

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