Interior Dry. Deb Haaland faced lawmakers Thursday in a contentious Senate hearing that focused on high gas prices, oil and gas drilling and delays in the department’s plan to stage more drilling lease sales.
Haaland told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that his agency plans to release a proposal for its next five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan by the end of June — a timeline that would likely lead to a gap. between the current plan and a new one.
Sen. Joe Manchin and Republicans on the committee have expressed concern that the Interior Department appears to be delaying holding more oil and gas lease sales as gasoline prices rise in the United States.
“The president says he wants his administration to encourage more American energy,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming. “Instead, your department, Madam Secretary, is blocking, postponing and killing oil and natural gas lease sales. Your department is undermining home energy production, not speeding it up.
Energy experts tell CNN that high gas prices cannot be solved by drilling more oil in the United States.
Haaland told the committee that the department does not have a deadline to begin leasing under a new program, which would likely lead to a gap between the current program and the new one, during which the federal government cannot organize sales of offshore oil and gas leases.
She and Undersecretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau told lawmakers that the five-year plan development process takes longer as the department tries to be “deliberate”.
“It is appropriate for us to take a step, to be deliberate as we think about the potential future rentals outlined in the five-year program,” Beaudreau told Manchin, chairman of the committee. “By the end of June, we will complete the second step of a three-step process. No decision regarding the rental will be made before the third stage.
That answer didn’t seem to sit well with Manchin, the West Virginia senator who is the swing vote for Democrats on energy and climate legislation.
Manchin told Interior officials they were taking “much longer than the deadline” to achieve their new five-year plan.
“We get this at the last possible day, at the last possible minute, knowing there are other steps to take,” Manchin said. “The moment is not good that you took as long as possible.”
Haaland said even after the program proposal is released by June 30, it will still take 150 days to complete public comment and environmental review before rental sales can take place.
“I don’t think there’s an actual deadline” to start a new offshore lease, she told Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma.
“That’s the concern we all have, actually that there’s no deadline,” Lankford replied. “That the proposal to talk about it comes by the date it should be done, and that it’s going to span the next 2-3 years talking about it. We’re trying to figure out what the deadline is to actually start the lease.
The Biden administration announced last week that it would cancel three upcoming offshore oil and gas leases — two in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska — due to a lack of industry interest and legal delays.
The cancellation of the previously planned sale of Cook Inlet in Alaska, as well as lease sales in the Gulf, ensures that millions of acres of offshore waters will not be developed for oil and gas – a significant victory for climate advocates. While the administration announced it would restart a significantly smaller area of onshore oil and gas leases in April, offshore cancellations have cast doubt on the future of the federal government’s offshore oil and gas leases this year.
The move upset Republicans and Manchin, who voiced their displeasure at Thursday’s hearing.
“I’m sorry to say that it has become crystal clear that the ‘pause’ is actually a ‘ban,'” Manchin said of the department’s initial temporary pause on the new lease of oil and gas, which has since ended.