The Department of the Interior just held the biggest offshore oil and gas auction in U.S. history. Like all things Trumpian, the bluster beforehand didn’t quite match the results.
Of the 78.1 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico offered up to oil and gas companies, 801,289, or just about one percent, were snapped up, according to statistics released by the Department of the Interior. The auction raised $178 million, the biggest haul of planet-destroying money to-date for the administration from an oil and gas lease sale, but the total fell below some of the more lucrative oil and gas auctions held in the recent past. Companies took out a few bids on more out-there drilling sites, but for the moment, the level of interest in new offshore leasing appears to fall somewhere between “meh” and “sure, I guess.” Energy dominance!
All told, 29 companies put in 171 bids at the auction held on Wednesday in New Orleans. That’s more bids than were placed in a similar auction held in March for Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases, which at the time the administration hyped as the biggest in U.S. history and which also failed to garner a ton of interest. The lackluster March auction is perhaps why they tamped down expectations for this one, despite it being an even bigger tract of ocean up for lease.
The auction also brought in more money this time around, and included a few bids on parcels of ocean further afield from where oil and gas drilling is currently happening. That reflects companies hedging their bets that oil and gas will be around for a while, but it hardly shows there’s a drilling renaissance afoot, especially with a glut of cheap fracked gas still available on land.
Offshore drilling has been one of the many flash points for the Trump administration. When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his plan to expand oil and gas drilling to nearly all U.S. waters along the outer continental shelf last year, pretty much everyone got pissed from Florida’s Republican governor to environmental groups to preachers. That led Zinke to backtrack a bit, notably giving Florida an exemption while ignoring entreaties from other governors from both red and blue states.
The administration has been full steam ahead since, with lease sales already in the works and attempts to open up new areas of the ocean to oil and gas exploration. The Obama administration put this latest oil and gas auction on the docket in 2016, but it was the Trump administration that determined the final scope. The Hill notes that the Obama administration held much more targeted lease auctions based on where fossil fuel companies expressed interest as opposed to the current strategy, which just seems based on owning the libs.
The Trump administration has already been sued over the auction, as well as the lackluster March auction. Coupled with the aforementioned cheap natural gas prices and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster still on people’s minds, it’s an economic and public relations uphill battle to say nothing of the climate risks. But then this isn’t exactly an administration that has shown any response to shame or scientific information.