Why Did Biden Cancel Alaska’s Cook Inlet Oil & Gas Lease?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (12984776i)United States President Joe Biden speaks before signing into law R.
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The Biden administration has come under scrutiny for canceling three oil and gas lease sales — including one off the coast of Alaska — that otherwise might have led to additional drilling during a time when gas prices have hit historical highs.

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Two of the leases were in the Gulf of Mexico and one was in federal waters off Alaska’s Cook Inlet, CBS News reported. In May, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it would cancel the leases, citing a “lack of industry interest in leasing in the area.”

The department also halted two leases under consideration for the Gulf of Mexico region because of “conflicting court rulings that impacted work on these proposed lease sales.”

The decision in Alaska halted the potential to drill for oil in more than 1 million acres in the Cook Inlet alone. It coincided with a steep rise in gasoline prices in the United States, where the national average recently pushed above $5 a gallon for the first time ever.

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The decision likely means the Biden administration will not hold a lease sale for offshore drilling in 2022 and came as the Interior Department seemed poised to let a mandatory five-year plan for offshore drilling expire, Alaska Public Media reported. The Biden administration has made clear its intention to help the country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels as a way of combating the effects of climate change.

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Critics, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), were quick to blast the decision.

“Citing a ‘lack of industry interest’ is nothing more than fantasy from an administration that shuns U.S. energy production,” she said in a statement to CBS News. “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. I can say with full certainty, based on conversations as recently as last night, that Alaska’s industry does have interest in lease sales in Cook Inlet. To claim otherwise is simply false, not to mention stunningly short-sighted.”

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Another critic — Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute — said the Biden administration “talks about the need for more supply and acts to restrict it.”

However, some industry experts, including Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, say the Alaska lease would have no impact on current gas prices because it would take years for that oil to come to market. And few Americans are likely to feel sorry for major oil companies that have one less drilling option, considering that oil companies have reported massive profits that are largely going to shareholder dividends and stock buybacks.

Meanwhile, environmental groups applaud the latest lease cancellation, saying the long-term benefit of battling climate change outweighs short-term concerns over high oil and gas prices.

“To save imperiled marine life and protect coastal communities and our climate from pollution, we need to end new leasing and phase out existing drilling,” Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Alaska Public Media.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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