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After the climate summit, the US auctions millionaire oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico

The US Department of the Interior will auction vast oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, estimated to hold up to 1.1 billion barrels of crude, the first sale of its kind under President Joe Biden and a harbinger of the challenges it faces in meeting climate targets that depend on a significant reduction of fossil fuel emissions.

For the sale, broadcast live, energy companies were invited to compete for drilling contracts andn about 352,000 square kilometers, about twice the size of Florida.

It will take companies years to develop the concessions before they begin to extract the crude. That means they could continue to produce long after 2030, when scientists say that the world must have made significant progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change.

The auction takes place after a federal judge, in a lawsuit brought by Republican states, reject the suspension of the sale of fossil fuels imposed by Biden when he assumed the presidency.

It is estimated that the area can contain up to 1.1 billion barrels of crude. AP Photo

The democrat campaigned promising to curb the extraction of fossil fuels from public lands and waters, which, counting coal, accounts for a quarter of US carbon emissions, according to the US Geological Survey.

Difficulties

However, although he has tried to convince other world leaders to redouble international efforts to curb global warming, this Wednesday’s sale is an example of the difficulties facing Biden to gain ground on climate issues in his country.

Last week, the government proposed another round of oil and gas concession sales in 2022 in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and other western states. Interior Department officials moved forward despite concluding that burning those fuels could lead to billions of dollars in possible future climate damage.

“We had Trump’s unfettered approach to oil and gas on federal land and Biden’s early attempt to pause drilling. Now apparently the Biden administration is trying to find a new policy”Said researcher Robert Johnston of the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Critics say Biden is not keeping his promises on climate.  Photo NYT

Critics say Biden is not keeping his promises on climate. Photo NYT

“They are being very cautious not to weaken their fragile momentum” on climate issues, he added.

The energy bureau said in pre-sale documents released Tuesday that it received offers for 307 zones totaling nearly 6,950 square kilometers. It is the highest total for a single sale since Gulf-wide bidding resumed in 2017. The previous seven sales generated nearly $ 1 billion in total revenue.

Environmental reviews of the latest sale – conducted under former President Donald Trump and ratified under Biden – came to an unusual conclusion: Extracting and burning the fuel would result in fewer greenhouse gases than leaving it unexploited.

The emissions

Similar claims in two other cases, in Alaska, fwere rejected by federal courts after challenges from environmentalists.

In one case, the judges cited the work of climate scientist Peter Erickson, who said that the Interior Department’s analysis featured a glaring omission: excluded the increase in greenhouse gases in other countries due to the entry of more oil from the Gulf to the market.

“Mathematical calculations are extremely easy on this kind of thing,” said Erickson, a scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit research group.

“If new leases expand the world supply of oil, that has a commensurate effect on emissions from burning oil. Therefore, granting these leases in the Gulf of Mexico it would increase global emissions. “

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Ocean Energy Management recently changed its emission modeling methods, citing Erickson’s work. Officials said it was too late to use that approach for Wednesday’s auction.

Spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Interior will do a more comprehensive review of emissions for upcoming sales than any previous administration. It will also appeal the court order that forced its resumption.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said he was not sure that employing the new approach would have changed the government’s conclusions, as drilling for oil elsewhere in the world is less efficient and the transportation of imports. it also adds to the costs of carbon.

The promises

The continued use of the old analysis annoys those who oppose drilling, because they say that Biden is not keeping his promises on the weather.

“We talk about abandoning the fossil fuel economy and they they’re selling a gigantic carbon bomb with the sale of concessions, “said Earthjustice attorney Drew Caputo, who has a pending federal lawsuit against the Gulf sale.

Some Democrats also objected to the sale. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona said Biden “you have to do things better” because he promised to lead on climate issues but continues with a fossil fuel program with a long history of mismanagement.

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 15% of the United States’ total crude production and 5% of its natural gas.

Industry analysts they had predicted there would be more interest in Wednesday’s sale, while oil prices rose a lot last year.

It’s also an opportunity for companies to secure drilling rights before the administration or Congress can raise drilling fees and royalty rates, said analyst Justin Rostant of consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“Different companies have different approaches and different strategies”Rostant said. “Some might think this is the year to go big.”

AP Agency

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