Interior Department Continues to Fumble Drilling Plan as Motorists Suffer Rising Prices at the Pump

At today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the Department of Interior’s budget request, Senator Manchin (D – W.Va.), the top Democrat on the Committee, called out the Department of Interior for refusing to conduct new oil and natural gas lease sales in the middle of an energy price crisis.

Addressing Secretary Haaland, Sen. Manchin said in his opening statement:

“When you were before the committee early last year, I told you that I supported the administration taking a brief pause to review the oil and gas program before resuming lease sales. In July, while you were here during last year’s budget hearing, I made clear that the time for a pause had come and gone … I’m sorry to say it has become crystal clear that the ‘pause’ is in fact a ‘ban’.”

There are plenty of good reasons to be doubtful that the Dept. of Interior plans to follow the law and conduct new lease sales – the first reason being a statement from the Department of Interior’s own press office on the new proposed five-year plan:

“During testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland confirmed that, despite delays in implementation from the previous Administration, the Interior Department will release the Proposed Program – the next step in the five-year offshore energy planning process – by June 30, 2022, which is the expiration of the current program. A Proposed Program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development.” (emphasis added)

The Interior press release, which was issued in the middle of the hearing, appeared to surprise Sec. Haaland as much as it surprised senators on the committee. As Sen. Manchin said:

It looks like y’all are going to shut everything down. Did you know you all put this out? … My god somebody, this shuts it down. This shows what your intent is.”

Sec. Haaland was not aware the press release had been issued, saying:

“I’m sorry, I’m sitting in this hearing.”

Sen. Manchin pointed out the unprecedented nature of the DOI press release:

“We’ve never done this. This is history. We’ve never done that before, not issue leases if you put a plan out. The plan has always been a long-term five-year plan to lease.”

Even without the Interior’s confounding statement, the department’s track record casts plenty of doubt on Sec. Haaland’s claim that the department will release the proposed OCS leasing program by June 30th. Last year, Sec. Haaland made a similar commitment to members of Congress that her department would issue a report reviewing federal leasing practices, only to miss the deadline set by her own department by nearly six months.

Jeff Eshelman, Chief Operating Officer of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, recalls last year’s ‘commitment’ from Interior:

“In addition to the problems of waiting until the last minute to give the industry the certainty it needs for offshore leasing, this is deja vu all over again. It was almost one year ago to the day that Secretary Haaland assured members of Congress that the review on federal leasing would be delivered by ‘early summer.’ That report wasn’t published until the day after Thanksgiving.”

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