Energy

Biden administration cancels public comment period for Alaska offshore oil lease sale amid review of program

A federal agency on Thursday said it is canceling a public comment period for a proposed oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet. The announcement comes after President Joe Biden signed a Jan. 27 order pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters during a review of the program.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it won’t hold the public comment period, scheduled to last through March 1, and three online virtual meetings scheduled for next week.

The cancellation delays the process to hold the 2021 sale, said John Callahan, a spokesman with BOEM in Anchorage.

“If a decision is made to restart the lease process, then we’ll reopen the comment period,” he said Thursday.

The lease sale, covering 1 million acres in federal waters in Cook Inlet west of the Kenai Peninsula, was proposed by the Trump administration to be held later this year. The comment period was meant to inform an environmental study of the impacts of the lease sale there.

Cook Inlet was the first major oil and gas province in Alaska before the massive fields on the North Slope were discovered. Twelve of 16 production platforms built in nearshore state waters in Cook Inlet remain active, according to a history of the region from the agency.

But oil and gas interest in the federal waters has been limited. The last federal lease sale there in 2017 drew one bidder, Hilcorp, and $3 million in bids, though that was the first time in two decades that federal lease sale efforts generated bidding.

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BOEM estimates that the federal waters of Cook Inlet contain 810 million barrels of economically recoverable oil, and 0.33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Conservation groups in Alaska quickly praised the cancellation as a step toward keeping oil in the ground and reining in climate change. Biden has made addressing climate change a central policy goal.

“Alaska is already reeling from the effects of climate change, and we have to break the Big Oil stranglehold if we want to keep the things that make Alaska unique,” Bob Shavelson with Cook Inletkeeper said in a prepared statement.

The order comes amid other Biden actions affecting oil and gas activity in Alaska and nationally, including a temporary halting such work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and an eight-day delay of an oil exploration project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, said Thursday that he hopes Alaska’s congressional delegation can take steps to make sure the Cook Inlet lease sale is held.

“All of our natural resources seem to be a target right now, but this shouldn’t come as secret to anyone” because Biden signaled his intentions during the campaign, Dillon said.

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