Miss. Senator Critical of Cancelled Gulf of Mexico Lease Sales, Delay in New Five-Year Plan

051922 Haaland
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith Challenges Interior Department on Gulf of Mexico Energy Production Decline.
VIDEO CLIP:  Senator Hyde-Smith Questions White House Policy to Ban Additional Leasing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to explain the Biden administration’s resistance to oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, and its failure to meet legal requirements to plan future sales over the next five years.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s fossil fuel policies received bipartisan criticism during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Thursday to review the agency’s FY2023 budget request.

“Offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has proven so many times that it is the cleanest on the planet due to our stringent environmental safety standards that we have to meet down there.  It provides 15% of U.S. production and is a critical source of reliable and affordable energy,” Hyde-Smith said. 

“Despite these benefits, leases required by law are being cancelled at a time when our nation is suffering from record high gasoline and diesel prices.  At the same time, President Biden claims his administration’s policies are not holding back domestic energy production.  We have charts of the decline in the Gulf of Mexico—5 percent since January 2021.  So, my question to you Madam Secretary, is what does your department have against utilizing the Gulf of Mexico for production of domestic energy?  This makes no sense whatsoever,” the Senator said.

“We’re perfectly moving forward on all of the work that we have to.  We don’t prioritize, you know, one lease over the other or one area over the other.  I’m not exactly sure.  We don’t have anything against the Gulf of Mexico,” Haaland said.

Since the start of the Biden administration in January 2021, offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has fallen 5 percent.  By comparison, production rose at a 4 percent compounded rate from 2017 until a steep pandemic-related drop off in 2020. 

Hyde-Smith also challenged Haaland on the recent cancellation of two planned lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, both the final sales required under an existing five-year oil and gas leasing plan, and the Interior Department’s failure to produce a new five-year lease plan by June 30—as required by law.

Instead the Interior Department announced during the hearing that it would instead issue a “proposed program” for a new five-year National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program by June 30, a notice that specifically pointed out that the draft program “is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development.”

“So are you willing to work to improve this decline of five percent since 2021?  Do you expect to increase those leases in the Gulf of Mexico?” Hyde-Smith asked.

“We are working very hard to balance the use of public lands knowing they are public and belong to every single American.  Also we know we are working hard with fossil fuel programs to take climate change into account,” Haaland responded.

Hyde-Smith turned to ask about the Biden administration’s overall approach to oil and gas production on federal land and water.

“The White House recently stated that the President’s policy is to ‘ban additional leasing.’  That is from an April 19th statement from the White House press secretary at that time.  ‘…it’s not in line with the President’s policy, which is ban additional leasing.’  We have seen the detrimental effects that misguided policy is having on the American families.  Does the Interior Department agree with such a policy?” Hyde-Smith said.

Throughout the hearing, Haaland and other administration officials blamed the Trump administration and litigation for her Department’s mishandling of energy issues.

On Wednesday, Hyde-Smith called on President Biden and his allies to accept significant responsibility for failed administration energy policies that are driving up gasoline and energy costs.