The agency that oversees offshore leasing in federal waters has set a date and published an environmental assessment for the next oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet. And this time, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has to hold the sale, no matter what — though industry interest in the 958,000-plus acres up for bid is anything but guaranteed.
Thursday’s publication of the final environmental impact statement for the Cook Inlet sale is the latest step in the on-again-off-again saga since Congress in August said a sale was mandatory by the end of the year. The requirement was added into the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — largely celebrated by environmentalists for its investments in renewable energy — by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, a Murkowski spokesperson said in August.
It’s the first time Congress has required a lease sale in Alaska by law. Previous proposed sales in Cook Inlet have always had the caveat that they could be canceled for lack of industry interest. That’s what happened last May and three other times in the last decade.
But even though the sale is required, oil and gas companies might not bid. Interest from producers in Cook Inlet oil and gas tracts has waned in recent years, with a small number of companies picking up leases in the inlet in both state and federal sales. And not all of those leases have been explored or developed.
As part of the regulatory process, BOEM is required to outline the potential environmental effects of a sale in an environmental impact statement. In its updated statement, BOEM included an updated assessment of potential greenhouse gas emissions from a sale, as well as expanded protections for Cook Inlet beluga whales.
Cook Inlet lease sales have long drawn opposition from environmental groups. Last year, local nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper held an art sale to raise money and awareness about a potential sale.
The Cook Inlet auction is scheduled for the day of Congress’s deadline — Dec. 31, 2022. You can find BOEM’s final environmental impact statement here.