Flip-flop Joe Must Stay the Course on Off-shore Drilling

by | Jan 18, 2022 |

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Last month the federal government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history. In this way, the Biden administration is now supporting America’s vitally important off-shore drilling. But we must hold President Biden’s feet to the fire on this issue or he may change his mind again. Here is the history of flip-flop Joe’s stance on off-shore drilling.

Biden said in a Democratic primary debate in 2020 that, with his administration in charge, there would be “no more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period…” In keeping with that commitment, the Biden administration said, in response to the successful legal challenge 12 states filed to lift the blanket pause Biden placed on new drilling permits, that that judgment did not compel the government to issue the oil leases in the Gulf. Then, just before holding the lease auction, the Biden administration said the lawsuit did force them to make the oil leases in the Gulf. Now, flip-flop Joe’s administration says they did not have to go ahead with the lease auctions.

In response, the environmental group Earthjustice launched a lawsuit on December 3rd to halt the leases before they come into effect in February. Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, is quoted in the UK’s Guardian newspaper as saying, 

“The Biden administration is talking about a climate crisis and getting to net-zero emissions and then it makes decisions like this that lock us into impacts for decades to come. These leases could potentially be producing oil 50 years from now. We have no good answer as to why they are doing this. It’s problematic and disappointing.”

In addition, three Democratic members of Congress—House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC) Water, Oceans, and Wildlife subcommittee Chair, Jared Huffman (CA-02); Full HNRC Chair, Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03); and HNRC Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee Chair, Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)—have, in support of Earthjustice’s lawsuit (re: December 8th press release from Huffman’s office),:

“filed an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia calling on the court to vacate a controversial 80-million-acre oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico that was approved without adequate environmental analysis or consideration by the Biden administration.”

The Huffman press release said:

“The original suit requests the court to find that Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) review and approval of Lease Sale 257 violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

Whether that is true or not is up to the courts to decide, but the main driver behind Earthjustice’s action is that they see Biden as going back on his commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to solve the supposed climate crisis. Indeed, Earthjustice says in their suit:

“There is no greater environmental crisis than climate change, and no greater contributor to climate change than the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.”

That is ridiculous, of course. As we have shown over and over in our America Out Loud articles and interviews, there is no climate change crisis and the carbon dioxide emitted from the extraction and use of fossil fuels has a beneficial impact on the Earth’s biosphere. However, not only could the courts rule in Earthjustice’s favor, but, with all this pressure against the leases, Biden could easily reverse his decision yet again. That would be a huge mistake and every thinking American should encourage the President to stay the course on drilling in the Gulf. Surprisingly, many legacy media understand this. For example, Mark Mills wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2019,

“Everything that is fabricated, grown, operated, or moved is made possible by hydrocarbons.” 

Even the editorial board of the Washington Post wrote on January 18, 2018,

“We have long supported opening more US waters to offshore drilling. As long as the economy requires oil, it must come from somewhere and better the United States than a country with much weaker environmental oversight. It is arrogant of Americans to benefit from the interconnected global oil market, yet insist their shores remain closed.”

Let’s consider the huge benefits drilling in our southern waters brings.

The Gulf of Mexico has been the premier offshore oil and gas region for decades. There are more than 1,600 production facilities and 8,000 miles of active pipelines in the Gulf offering a mix of world-class infrastructure. It has thousands of companies with hundreds of thousands of workers with amazing experience and expertise and a strong backdrop of safety regulations, standards, and practices.

While almost the entirety of the U.S. Offshore Oil and Gas production is isolated to the western and central Gulf of Mexico, other countries have eagerly embraced their offshore oil and gas resources. Investment and interest in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico remain strong. Projects have delivered vast quantities of gas and oil with very little decline rates. Investigations and production are going deeper and deeper. 

In August of 2019, the Gulf of Mexico hit a record high of production at 2 million barrels of oil per day. With good government policy and strong investment, this could continue for years to come, but the new administration seemed to have very different ideas for future oil production, namely slow it then stop it. Since 2015 the Gulf of Mexico has been the second most prospected offshore region, trailing only Guyana. From 2015 to 2019 more than 5 billion barrels have been produced in the Gulf and new discoveries continue.

Despite the protestations of environmental activists, deepwater production has a relatively small footprint. Eighteen deepwater facilities exist in one area the size of nine city blocks which account for 75% of the total offshore production in the Gulf. The amount of oil produced there is about equal to all annual production in the prolific oil state of North Dakota.

Onshore oil production from shale wells declines on average by 40 to 50 percent in the first year. Offshore wells decline little more than 10 percent in their first year, and remain strong for longer periods of time.

Offshore energy companies are continuously innovating by solving, scaling, and deploying new technologies and practices producing energy more efficiently. They continue to reduce their footprint. Key advances are being made in areas including:

  • Remote sensing
  • Real-time monitoring
  • New materials
  • Rig standardization
  • Subsea systems
  • Blowout preventers
  • Containment systems
  • Worker training

Rather than harming the marine environment, offshore energy development creates beneficial marine environments. Ask any Gulf of Mexico fisherman about this and he or she will tell you that oil and gas platforms are home to some of the best fishing one can find. Production platforms become home to marine ecosystems almost the moment they anchor.

At the end of the useful life of a platform controlling a deep well, in a process called de-commissioning, structures are either dismantled and removed from the offshore location or, in some cases, towed or lowered to create artificial reefs for thousands of fish and marine animals that make the Gulf of Mexico a fishing and diving paradise. According to the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement, more than 500 platforms previously installed on the U.S. Continental Outer Shelf are now successful artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. A typical eight-leg structure can be home to 14,000 fish according to a study by the Coastal Marine Institute and a typical four-leg structure provides up to two to three acres of habitat for hundreds of marine species.

Historically, the offshore oil and gas industry has been an important generator of revenues for the federal government as well as state and local governments. Offshore lease sales generate billions of dollars in revenue through bonus payments, rentals, and royalties. For example, the industry generated $5.4 billion in government revenue in 2019. But this was, in fact, less than usual in recent years. Between 2006 and 2018 more than $120 billion was generated for the government, an average of over $9 billion per year. Some of these revenues flow back to key conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund which was actually funded entirely by offshore oil and gas production. The industry also established certain provisions for maintaining and improving National Parks in the Great American Outdoors Act.

To discuss these issues, our guest this weekend on The Other Side of the Story will be Joe Leimkuhler who, besides his work as Chief Operating Officer of Beacon Offshore Energy LLC, is on the National Ocean Industries Association Board of Directors and Chair of the NOIA’s Health Safety and Environment Sub-committee.

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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