More Reaction From Last Week’s One-Bid Cook Inlet Lease Sale

Last week, opposition to Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas drilling was evident at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Inflation Reduction Act-mandated Lease Sale 258, when just one bid was announced. ARC Initiatives offered up more reaction about the lack of interest in the sale with the following press release:

ICYMI: Biden Administration Alaska Offshore Oil & Gas Lease Sale Confirms Dying Industry Interest; Local & National Groups Call for a Five-Year Plan with No New Leases 

On December 30, the Biden administration moved forward with leasing Alaska’s Lower Cook Inlet—resulting in only 1 bid on 1 block out of 193. 

(Anchorage, Alaska) — Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) mandated Lease Sale 258. This federal sale comprised over 950,000 acres in Alaska’s Lower Cook Inlet and resulted in only 1 bid on 1 block out of 193 available, highlighting the continued disinterest from the oil and gas industry to drill in the Inlet. 

Hilcorp Alaska was the only company to submit a bid on the lease sale. But with repeated violations of environmental and regulatory requirements and a lack of transparency with the state when it comes to how much it should be paying for Alaska’s resources, groups are concerned with this company drilling in such a biologically diverse and critical area. 

The results of this sale show that even the oil and gas industry is losing interest in risky drilling projects. Additionally, this sale has prompted climate and environmental justice groups to continue to urge the Biden administration to uphold its commitment to ending offshore drilling by finalizing a 5 Year Plan with no new leases in Cook Inlet or the Gulf of Mexico. The draft plan proposes 11 leases despite President Biden’s own campaign promises and numerous analyses finding that new fossil fuel production is incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

The Department of the Interior will likely release its final Five Year Plan early this year. Throughout the public comment period and opportunities for virtual testimony on the draft plan, there was an overwhelming amount of public engagement from Gulf and Alaskan residents, business and environmental groups, and people across the country rejecting new offshore drilling. 

In response to Lease Sale 258, Sue Mauger, Science & Executive Director for Cook Inletkeeper released the following statement:

“Local opposition to Lease Sale 258 and new drilling activity remains strong. Today’s outcome reinforces that fossil fuel development in Cook Inlet is no longer a sound investment. Alaskans know our climate crisis is no joke and are ready to move beyond the fossil-fuel era and those who prioritize economic profits over liveable communities. We won’t give up trying to protect Cook Inlet from carbon pollution, oil spill risks and shortsighted thinking.

The failure of companies, like Hilcorp, to address climate change implications along with the quickly lowering cost of renewables mean fossil fuel extraction is simply too big of a risk to take on. It’s time to move towards clean energy, and Cook Inlet is primed to be a leader in the renewable energy transition. A transition that maintains the inlet’s beauty, biodiversity, and local economy.”

Additional statements in response to the results of Lease Sale 258 and including no new leases in the next Five Year Plan:

“They call these offshore oil leases but, for us in Kachemak Bay, these waters are neither out of sight nor out of mind. New drilling in Lower Cook Inlet will dramatically change our lives, our local economy and subsistence cultures,” said Roberta Highland, President of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society.

“This damaging sale never should have happened in the first place, and we’ll continue challenging it in court and fighting to preserve beautiful Cook Inlet,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We urge Biden not to issue any leases without meaningful consideration of drilling’s threats to local communities and wildlife like the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, as he’s required to do by federal law.”  

“Lease sale 258 was a flop. Only one oil company showed up and bid on one single lease. This is good news for the climate and those who call Cook Inlet home, like the endangered beluga whale. The result should stiffen Interior’s spine to stop leasing our public lands for fossil fuel and instead align their management with the urgent need to combat climate change. We urge Interior to start by exercising its discretion not to issue a lease to Hilcorp, the sole bidder on the lease. It is a troubled operator with a long history of violations, the lease on which it bid is in important habitat for endangered belugas, and there should be no more oil leasing in the Inlet for Hilcorp or any other company,” said Erik Grafe, Attorney with Earthjustice.

“The lackluster response to this lease sale made clear that there’s no need to lease this vibrant ocean ecosystem for oil production. BOEM should not issue a lease to Hilcorp, whose record of safety violations and spills shows they have no business drilling in Cook Inlet,” said Julia Forgie with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Additional Background: 

Earthjustice recently filed a lawsuit—with partners Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for Biological Diversity, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, and Natural Resources Defense Council—challenging BOEM’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Department of the Interior’s Record of Decision to hold the sale, stating that they violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The lawsuit states that the agencies failed to meaningfully account for climate impacts or find alternatives to result in the least harm to the climate, marine life, and Cook Inlet communities.