The Biden administration has released a new offshore drilling plan that schedules up to 11 offshore oil and gas lease sales over the next five years in up to two regions. Despite overwhelming evidence that further offshore oil and gas development will have zero impact on current high oil prices, will worsen devastating climate change impacts, and harm coastal communities and ecosystems, the administration unfortunately is moving to open up millions of acres of new ocean to offshore drilling. 

This proposed five-year program is out of line with the Biden administration’s climate and environmental justice goals. We are in a climate crisis and more offshore drilling will make things worse. The solution is more clean, not dirty, energy.

Fossil fuel companies already lease almost 11 million acres of public ocean for oil and gas development, but only drill on a quarter of that area. There’s so much oil in areas already leased that industry can sustain high production levels well into the 2030s. And oil from new leases doesn’t hit the market for at least five years, so any lease sales issued now would have zero impact on current high oil prices. Given that the U.S. exports nearly half of the oil it produces, it’s clear that new leasing isn’t about improving energy security or lowering oil prices - it’s about industry trying to profit from a crisis and lock in dirty infrastructure and climate pollution for decades to come. 

And Big Oil has really profited. While people struggle with surging gas prices, the top five oil and gas companies have more than tripled their profits in the first quarter of 2022, bringing in over $35 billion to line shareholder pockets in 2021. Exxon, Shell, and other big oil companies have made it clear that they prioritize profit over helping lower gas prices and help families.The last thing these companies need is more opportunities to buy up our federal waters, pollute our coasts, and warm our planet. 

New offshore drilling leases would make it harder for President Biden to meet his climate commitments. These include reducing emissions by 50% by 2030, which is exactly when fossil fuel production from these leases would come on line. To have any hope of staying within 1.5 degrees Celsius of climate change, as literally thousands of scientists have warned we must do, we cannot continue to issue new offshore oil and gas leases and lock in more fossil fuel production.

The proposed new leasing also blatantly conflicts with the Biden administration’s equity and environmental justice goals. The draft leasing plan proposes up to ten lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. For far too long, Gulf coastal communities, many of them Black and Indigenous, have endured the burdens of the fossil fuel industry, and are now bearing the brunt of damages from the worsening climate crisis. We cannot continue to lease our public waters for oil and gas production at the expense of these frontline communities.

Climate change is far from the only harm from offshore oil and gas drilling. Catastrophic oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster have had long-lasting impacts on marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal economies. There is no way to ensure that such disasters will not happen again if we keep drilling for offshore oil, particularly as this drilling continues to increase in deeper and deeper, and more perilous, waters. The seismic blasting used in fossil fuel exploration also harms ocean wildlife, including endangered whales, and commercially- and recreationally-important fish populations.

This is a business-as-usual leasing plan in a time when we need a plan that recognizes our planetary crisis and that our future is at stake.

Lauren Kubiak is Senior Policy Analyst, Oceans Division, Nature Program, with the NRDC.
Valerie Cleland is Oceans Advocate, Nature Program, with the NRDC.

A collection of stories from guest authors.