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Energy

Biden offshore drilling proposal would allow up to 11 sales

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the Alaska coast over the next five years — going against the Democrat’s climate promises but scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities including in undeveloped areas.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said fewer than 11 lease sales — or even no lease sales at all — could occur, with a final decision not due for months. New drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would be blocked, after being considered under Trump.

“President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to … provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing,″ said Haaland, whose agency oversees drilling on federal lands and waters.

The proposal brought immediate backlash from both environmentalists — who accused Biden of betraying the climate cause — and oil industry officials and allies, who said it would do little to help counter high energy prices. Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon on Friday, a strain on commuters and a political albatross for Biden’s fellow Democrats going into the midterm elections. That has left the White House scrambling for solutions, including Biden’s call last week for suspension of the 18.4 cents a gallon federal gas tax.

The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January because of climate concerns but was forced to resume them by a U.S. district judge in Louisiana.

The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings about that decision when it canceled the last scheduled lease sales in the Gulf and Alaska during the previous offshore leasing cycle. That prior five-year cycle, a program adopted under former President Barack Obama, expired on Thursday.

There will be a months-long gap before a new plan can be put in place. The oil industry and its allies say the delay could cause problems in planning new drilling and potentially lead to decreased oil production.

There’s unlikely to be an offshore lease sale until well into next year, said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group.

And, he said, administration officials “went out of their way to say” there might not be any lease sales at all.

“It’s very important for the administration to send a signal to the global oil markets that the United States is serious about increasing supply … for the long term,” he said, repeating a longtime claim by industry officials and Republicans that ties uncertainty over oil supply to high prices.

Biden in recent weeks has criticized oil producers and refiners for maximizing profits and making “more money than God,” rather than increasing production in response to higher prices as the economy recovers from the pandemic and feels the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The leasing announcement was a bitter disappointment to environmentalists and some Democrats who rallied around then-candidate Biden when he promised to end new drilling in federal lands and waters.

The proposal comes a day after the administration held its first onshore lease sales, drawing $22 million in an auction that gives energy companies drilling rights on about 110 square miles (285 square kilometers) in seven western states. The sales came despite the administration’s own findings that burning oil and gas from the parcels could cause billions of dollars in potential future climate damages.

“Our public lands and waters are already responsible for nearly a quarter of the country’s carbon pollution each year. Adding any new lease sales to that equation while the climate crisis is unfolding all around us is nonsensical,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona.

Cynthia Sartou, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Healthy Gulf, called the lease-sale plan “a huge loss for Gulf residents, American energy policy and the global climate.”

Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate energy committee, welcomed the proposal as a chance “to get our leasing program back on track.”

“While Americans everywhere are suffering from record high gas prices and disruptions in the global oil market caused by (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine, the Department of the Interior hasn’t held any successful offshore lease sales since November 2020,” the West Virginia lawmaker said.

Under the Trump administration, Interior officials had proposed 47 sales, including 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 19 in Alaska and nine off the Atlantic coast that were later withdrawn. Trump lost the 2020 election before the proposal was finalized.

The current format of holding Gulf-wide sales was put in place under Obama because of dwindling interest in offshore leases. Prior to that there had been decades of regional sales.

Friday’s announcement opens a 90-day public comment period, then a final plan must be submitted 60 days before it goes into effect.

The government held an offshore lease auction in the Gulf of Mexico in November that brought $192 million in bids. A court canceled that sale before the leases were issued.

Haaland has said previously that the industry is “set” with the amount of drilling permits stockpiled and at its disposal. She testified during a House hearing in April that the industry has about 9,000 permits that have been approved but are not being used.

Oil production has increased as the economy recovers from the coronavirus slowdown, but it’s still below pre-pandemic levels. Energy companies have been reluctant to ramp up production further, citing a shortage of workers and restraints from investors wary that today’s high prices won’t last.

Major oil companies reported surging profits in the first quarter and sent tens of billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders.

Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club said delaying offshore sales until next year “is an important step toward protecting communities and climate, and we urge the administration to finalize a plan that commits to no new offshore drilling leases, period.”

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Brown reported from Billings, Mont. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this story.

Janet Mcconnaughey And Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

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Alberta

Cenovus Energy to buy remaining stake in Toledo refinery from BP for $300 million

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CALGARY — Cenovus Energy Inc. has reached a deal with British energy giant BP to buy the remaining 50 per cent stake in the BP-Husky Toledo Refinery for $300 million.

The Calgary-based oil producer has owned the other 50 per cent of the Ohio-based refinery since its combination with Husky Energy in 2021.

Cenovus says its U.S. operating business will take over operations when the transaction closes, expected before the end of the year.

The company says the Toledo refinery recently completed a major, once in five years turnaround to improve operational reliability.

It says the transaction will give Cenovus an additional 80,000 barrels per day of downstream throughput capacity, including 45,000 barrels per day of heavy oil refining capacity.

The deal brings Cenovus’ total refining capacity to 740,000 barrels per day.

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus president and CEO, says fully owning the Toledo refinery provides an opportunity to further integrate the company’s heavy oil production and refining capabilities, including with the nearby Lima Refinery.

“This transaction solidifies our refining footprint in the U.S. Midwest and increases our ability to capture margin throughout the value chain,” he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE)

The Canadian Press

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Economy

Surprise Senate vote would overturn Biden environmental rule

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By Matthew Daly in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise victory for Republicans, the Senate on Thursday voted to overturn a Biden administration rule requiring rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells — an outcome aided by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin, a key player on energy and climate issues and a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, joined Republicans to support the measure, which was approved 50-47. The vote comes as Manchin has proposed a separate list of legislative measures to speed up federal permitting for major projects in return for his support of a Democratic bill to address climate change.

Republicans voted unanimously to overturn the Biden permitting rule, while Manchin was the only Democrat to support it. Three senators were absent: Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The vote sends the measure to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is unlikely to move forward.

Still, the vote signaled strong Senate support for action to reform the often onerous federal permitting process, which can take up to eight to 10 years for highways and other major projects. Streamlining federal review is a top Manchin and GOP priority that is not shared by most Democrats.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, sponsored the measure to overturn the Biden rule, saying new regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, will further bog down the permitting process and delay critical infrastructure projects the country needs.

The Biden rule — which overturns an action by the Trump administration loosening environmental reviews — requires regulators to consider the likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities before approving major projects. The new requirement “is going to add to the red tape” that prevents major infrastructure projects from being approved in a timely manner, Sullivan said.

While President Joe Biden has called infrastructure a priority — and pushed for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year — the new NEPA rule actually “makes it harder to build infrastructure projects” in the United States, Sullivan said.

“The only people, in my view, who really like this new system are radical far-left environmental groups that don’t want to build anything … and probably the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on the Senate floor. China and other competitors likely “love the fact that it takes 9 to 10 years to permit a bridge in the U.S.A.,” Sullivan said.

The White House strongly opposed the measure and threatened a veto if Congress approves it.

“This action would slow the construction of American infrastructure, lead to the waste of taxpayer resources on poorly designed projects and result in unnecessary and costly litigation and conflict that will delay permitting,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

Manchin countered that, “for years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system, and I know the (Biden) administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong.”

Manchin called Thursday’s vote “a step in the right direction” but said the measure likely “is dead on arrival in the House. That’s why I fought so hard to secure a commitment (from Democratic leaders) on bipartisan permitting reform, which is the only way we’re going to actually fix this problem.”

The new rule, finalized this spring, restores key provisions of NEPA, a bedrock environmental law that is designed to ensure community safeguards during reviews for a wide range of federal projects, including roads, bridges and energy development such as pipelines and oil wells. The longstanding reviews were scaled back under former President Donald Trump in a bid to fast-track projects and create jobs.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said in implementing the new rule that it should restore public confidence during environmental reviews. The change could speed development by helping to “ensure that projects get built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory.

Projects approved by the Trump administration were frequently delayed or defeated by lengthy court battles from groups challenging environmental reviews as inadequate.

Manchin, who brokered a surprise deal last week on climate legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said he’s won promises from Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress to pursue permitting reforms in the Senate to speed approval of projects in his energy-producing state and across the country. Manchin’s wish list includes swift approval of the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in his home state and Virginia. The pipeline is nearly complete but has been delayed for years by court battles and other issues.

Manchin’s list includes a number of proposals supported by Republicans, including a two-year deadline on environmental reviews; changes to the Clean Water Act; limitations on judicial review; and prompt action on projects determined by the Energy secretary to be in the national interest.

Environmental groups have decried Manchin’s proposals as counter-productive to the climate legislation and a threat to the environment and communities where projects would be built.

Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters, dismissed the Senate vote Thursday as “nothing more than a Republican-led stunt to appease their fossil fuel-industry allies.”

Foote and other environmentalists said strong NEPA review is needed to ensure that those most affected by an energy project have a say in the projects built in their communities.

“Thorough, community-based environmental reviews are critical to helping eliminate environmental racism and making sure low-income communities and communities of color are protected from polluters who want to build dirty, toxic projects in their backyards,” Foote said.

She called on Congress to approve the Manchin-Schumer climate bill as soon as possible. Schumer said votes on the bill are likely this weekend.

Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group, said Americans are “seeing the effects of climate change in catastrophic detail, from the heat waves in Texas to wildfires in New Mexico to the devastating flooding in Kentucky. But the Senate is voting to prevent the federal government from considering climate change when making decisions. This makes no sense.”

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