Biden’s offshore drilling plan sparks debate over future of Alabama coast | State and Area News


John Sharp

Oil and gas leases gave Alabama’s Gulf Coast such a boost last year that Governor Kay Ivey decided to visit Spanish Fort in October and announce $41 million projects while blowing the candles from her birthday cake.

This year’s gift to Alabama from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) is just under $35 million.

But in the years to come, Republicans fear GOMESA’s money will be worth celebrating.

“We are concerned about what the future of this funding source might look like,” said Gina Maiola, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Their concerns center on the uncertainty of offshore oil and gas leases under the administration of President Joe Biden, who is debating whether to issue more leases in the Gulf of Mexico at a time of volatile oil prices. fuel and inflation.

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Biden is hearing criticism from all quarters. Republican leaders on the Gulf Coast accuse the president of hurting the economy by ending oil and gas leases. Environmental advocates believe the president is breaking his campaign promises by not stopping offshore drilling altogether.

The impact of GOMESA

For Alabama, Gulf leases are a crucial source of revenue for a multitude of projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

The state receives 37.5% of federal royalties from new Gulf oil and gas leases, according to the 2006 law that established GOMESA. Three other Gulf states – Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana – also share rental revenue.

The funds are used for coastal conservation and preservation projects, hurricane protection and to boost ecotourism. In Alabama, GOMESA revenues have funded park expansions, land acquisitions for conservation and beach access, new boat ramps, fishing piers, trash traps and more Again.

Revenues have skyrocketed since 2017. Data from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers the program, shows the state received a total of $263,000 in oil and gas lease revenue in 2017. One Year More later, when phase II of the GOMESA program started. , the program’s revenue soared to $26 million.

Two years ago, $50 million in rental income returned to the state.

But coastal lawmakers fear Biden, who promised to halt oil and gas exploration during the 2020 presidential campaign, could freeze activity.

“The energy policies of this administration are nationally disastrous,” said State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, who two years ago sponsored legislation requiring all GOMESA revenue from the State to be spent in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Elliott said the current situation of high fuel prices and the lack of new offshore leases represents a “double whammy” for Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

“We’re paying more for oil and the administration won’t allow leases to continue (oil drilling),” Elliott said.

Biden’s Plan

The Biden administration earlier this month released a proposed five-year oil and gas lease program that includes up to 11 new leases — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast. of Alaska – but also includes the potential for zero.

Areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts remain off-limits to drilling under Biden’s plan, despite some interest from former President Donald Trump to expand offshore drilling activities beyond the Gulf of Mexico .

A final plan will only be determined after 90 days of public comment and will not begin until 2023.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile, accused the Biden administration of being “off its rocker when it comes” to the oil industry.

Carl said that while GOMESA’s revenue is “pretty stable” at the moment, the lack of offshore activity could reduce a key revenue stream for the Alabama coast.

“It’s been a win-win for the environment,” Carl said. “But again, this administration is bound and determined to stop the drilling.”

Environmental activists, while praising the way the state has used GOMESA funding so far, say revenue from offshore energy development should not be the lifeline for funding environmental projects.

Cade Kistler, acting director of Mobile Baykeeper, said his organization doesn’t think generating more revenue from GOMESA is a good reason to open up coastal waters for more offshore drilling.

“It’s like stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” Kistler said.

He said the reason for GOMESA is due to the risks of offshore drilling on the Gulf Coast. Of note is the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 and the subsequent oil spill that polluted shorelines along the coastal states.

Kistler said GOMESA is a nice “bonus” for restoration, land acquisition and other projects, but it shouldn’t replace state funding for environmental projects.

He noted that Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management budget was the lowest of any state environmental agency budget on a per capita basis from 2016 to 2019.

“Until Alabama’s elected officials and citizens prioritize environmental funding and the effectiveness of ADEM, GOMESA projects are more like putting a finger in the dike than a icing on the cake,” Kistler said.

Risky or necessary?

Environmental advocates are also unhappy with Biden’s proposed offshore drilling plan, arguing his plan could open up the Gulf to more activity.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, in a press release earlier this month, accused the administration of backtracking on previous statements by offering new offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sierra Weaver, senior attorney and head of the organization’s Coast and Wetlands team, said in a statement that Biden’s plan “fails to take the threats of climate change seriously” while putting “coastal communities in the Gulf in great danger”.

“At a critical time for urgent and bold climate action, it is very disappointing to see the administration proposing more offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – the part of the country that has suffered the most from this risky industry,” said said Weaver.

Carl disagrees and issued a statement in May accusing Biden of engaging in a “war on American energy production” by halting new lease sales. He introduced legislation last year requiring the Home Office to pay Gulf states the funds they lack during the moratorium.

Republican Senator Richard Shelby said Biden should “work to increase domestic energy production rather than hinder offshore development,” amid rising inflation and rising prices at the pump.

He also said lower revenue from GOMESA would hurt Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville called Biden’s offshore plan a “huge problem” if passed.

“GOMESA has been a huge success for Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and others,” he said. “If there’s less leases in the Gulf, there’s less drilling and less revenue and that’s less revenue for our coastal states. We’re using it for Coastline development, and that’s done a lot of path.

Tuberville, like Carl, lambasted the Biden administration’s energy policies and called them a “disaster.”

“We must free up American Energy and use our domestic energy resources,” he said. “I hope they don’t mess with offshore drilling and our GOMESA.”


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