(CN) — The Biden administration quietly retired three offshore gas leases, fulfilling a campaign promise and invigorating environmentalists but drawing criticism from factions who say the administration is not doing enough to reduce soaring gas prices.
The Department of Interior told The Washington Post that it will retire a oil lease that carried the potential to drill for oil in the Cook Inlet, which stretches from Anchorage 180 miles southwest to the Gulf of Alaska. The announcement was leaked to the press rather than done through more formal press statements.
The lease in the Cook Inlet involves more than 100 million acres of water used by tribes, fishermen and other recreators in and around one of the more populous parts of Alaska. The decision was celebrated by environmentalists who had been closely tracking the oil and gas development proposal.
“So excited!” Cook Inletkeeper tweeted on Thursday in wake of the announcement. “These waters are vital for our local economies like tourism and fishing.”
The Interior Department will also decline to proceed on two oil and gas leases on the Gulf of Mexico due to contradictory court rulings.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order freezing oil and gas development on federal lands as one of his first acts in office. Since, gas prices have exploded and his administration has faced pressure to revisit its posture to oil and gas development on federal lands.
Biden said he would release a monthly allotment from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, maintained by the Department of Energy.
Republicans have been critical of Biden’s refusal to pursue oil development on federal government.
“The Biden administration has yet again targeted Alaska and proved their lack of commitment to oil and gas development in the U.S. Gas prices are still hitting new highs and POTUS halts the potential to drill for oil in over 1 million acres in Cook Inlet,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican.
Some of the spikes in gas prices have been due to inflationary pressure as a result of the supply shock from the country’s efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, and others are the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is one of the world’s largest providers of oil and natural gas and its actions and the ensuing sanctions have roiled global energy markets.
The lease sale 258 is in an area in the Cook Inlet, where opportunities for development have previously lapsed due to a lack of industry interest.
Biden has had difficulty managing his promises to the environmental community that helped propel him to the Oval Office versus navigating public sentiment that is increasingly focused on worsening economic conditions, including gas prices.
On Thursday, the average cost of gasoline was $4.42, a record high.
Gina McCarthy, the White House adviser on climate change, announced this week that the lease would be suspended, but then another White House adviser said McCarthy’s announcement was premature, according to CBS News.
“Unfortunately, this is becoming a pattern — the administration talks about the need for more supply and acts to restrict it,” said Frank Macchiarola of the American Petroleum Institute in an email to Courthouse News.
Environmentalists say short-term issues like gas prices are not as important as long-term threats like climate change and the eradication of wildlife.
“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,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.
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