Federal government cancels pending oil and gas sale in Cook Inlet

The federal government will not auction land for oil and gas drilling in Cook Inlet this year. The Home Office announced this week it was canceling an ongoing auction for up to 1 million acres of leases, capping a tumultuous stop-and-start timetable for the proposed plan.

In a statement, department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the cancellation was due to a lack of industry interest.

Kara Moriarty said she found this logic baffling. She is president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. And she said companies usually don’t say whether or not they will participate. She don’t even know.

“Participating in lease sales is a closely guarded secret, if you will, because companies don’t want to hint to competitors that they might be interested in a domain,” she said.

She said any lack of feedback to the ministry from oil and gas companies does not necessarily signal a lack of interest.

“The only way to find out what the real interest is is to arrange a lease sale,” Moriarty said. “There’s nothing lost if nobody shows up. And that’s happened in the past.

Opponents of the now-cancelled sale, by contrast, sent in thousands of comments submitted to federal authorities — nearly 93,000, to be exact, Liz Mering said. She is Advocacy Director for Cook Inletkeeper, which has campaigned fervently against the sale, including an art sale to raise funds and publicize the efforts last December.

Mering said those efforts paid off.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “It’s so nice to have a win and to remind people that everyone’s actions and everyone’s commenting and taking time out of their day to testify and do whatever our community is doing to advocate for the he future we want in Cook Inlet really matters.

She said the industry’s lack of interest cited isn’t much of a surprise. The federal government canceled Cook Inlet lease sales due to low industry interest in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“However, we also hope that the industry also looks at the strong local opposition, the serious concerns and the fact that people are not going to shut up,” Mering said. “And so, at the same time, also thinking that certainly could have played a role as well.

The Biden administration marked an initial pause in the sale of the lease in early 2021, part of a broader order to address climate change. That process has resumed following a lawsuit from Alaska and several other states, though the federal government is still able to cancel lease sales even after environmental impact statements are filed.

Bigger picture, Mering said she hopes for more permanent releases of oil and gas in Cook Inlet. The order is not necessarily canceled everything rental sales in the entrance – just this one.

She also said it was important to note that the sale would not have affected gasoline prices in future years. Alaska politicians, including Governor Mike Dunleavy and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, said on social media that the move shows disregard for the high gasoline prices consumers are currently paying at the pump.

Moriarty, along with the industry group, said the decision sends a message that the Biden administration is not interested in developing oil and gas from American sources. The department also announced that it did not hold two lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It just doesn’t make sense why you wouldn’t want your future oil and gas — for energy security, as well as for Alaska, for consumers in Alaksan, in particular, when we’re talking about Cook Inlet – comes from America,” Moriarty said.

And she said that without federal leases, the industry will focus on state leases in Cook Inlet. The state of Alaska auctioned off 3.3 million acres of oil and gas leases in Cook Inlet last Junewhich resulted in eight successful bids from two different companies.

Laura J. Boyer