Reduction in Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Leasing Could Devastate Global Energy Security; Markets

Wed, September 27, 2023

Globally, Texas’ prolific onshore and offshore oil and gas production helps ensure energy security for the U.S. and our allies and trade partners abroad. However, recent actions by the Biden Administration are in direct opposition to policies that advance America’s energy independence.

Texas ports represent the second largest port area in the United States, supporting over $449.6 billion in economic activity and transporting 616.2 million tons of cargo, including energy, petrochemicals, and agriculture products—making Texas’ Gulf Coast responsible for feeding and fueling the world. These ports directly employ nearly 129,000 people and support around 1.7 million additional jobs.

In July 2023, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed designating a critical habitat for Rice’s whale, which encompasses roughly 28,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico, including important oil and gas production and transportation areas. Rice’s whale designation as an individual species occurred in 2021, as scientists noticed the species did not migrate like other large whale species. It is estimated only 50 whales remain. Although NMFS has not finalized the critical habitat designation for the Rice’s whale, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently attempted to remove 6 million acres from the Final Notice of Sale (FNOS) for Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 261, as well as stipulated vessel restrictions including limitations on nighttime transit through the yet to be finalized critical habitat area. 

Recognizing the far-reaching implications of the administration’s proposal, as well as the scope of the law, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled in September 2023 that the BOEM was violating the Administrative Procedure Act by removing the 6 million acres from offshore oil lease sales. Shortly following this ruling, environmental groups filed an appeal, claiming the “Rice’s whale desperately needs these protections.” Notably, these same groups have also cited the desire to halt production of oil and gas as an overarching motivation.  

While the NMFS proposal is still being considered, with the Service hoping to submit the proposal to the October 6 docket, it is based on limited data without a firm understanding of whether the whales routinely inhabit the proposed area in its entirety. Additionally, the proposal has not met the Endangered Species Act standard for fully considering the expansive economic and national security implications of these restrictions. As a result, these restrictions are bypassing federal measures to protect the environment and hindering Texas’ economy.

Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association President Ed Longanecker underscored that the Texas oil and gas industry “is committed to responsible and sustainable energy production and transportation, working on a daily basis to help meet rising demand both at home and around the world.”

He continued: “The decision to proceed with Lease Sale 261 as originally planned demonstrates the importance of sustained oil and gas production for both our economy and national energy security.”

This commitment to sustainably producing energy is shared across the value chain, with producers and operators utilizing the latest data and technology to ensure responsible operations. Hess Corporation Senior Vice President of Production Gerbert Schoonman explained the use of innovative technologies, “offshore, across drilling and completions, subsurface and operations, [the industry is] leveraging data analytics, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence to make faster, better and data-driven decisions, and drive operational improvements.”

The Offshore Operators Committee, which represents 90% of all oil and gas production in the Gulf Coast, spoke to the importance of environmentally responsible operations, underscoring that OOC “are committed to protecting the environment” through appropriate regulations.  Notably, NMFS’ proposed regulations are dependent upon a study that is not publicly available, leaving the American public in the dark about the basis for such a significant decision with far-reaching consequences.  

The American Petroleum Institute, National Ocean Industries Association, and EnerGeo Alliance highlighted, “this private settlement agreement between the federal government and environmental activists places unfounded restrictions on operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico that severely hamper America’s ability to produce energy,” and is effectively “a far-reaching ban on operations.” 

Texas’ oil and gas industry is willing and able to provide safe, reliable, and abundant energy, especially in times of increased demand. For example, during the global energy crisis, the Port of Corpus Christi increased crude oil imports and exports by 15%, totaling 112 million tons in 2022 and representing roughly 60% of all crude oil exports. However, ineffective policies that hinder Texas’ Gulf Coast production and transportation place the state’s economy, American jobs, and global energy supply at risk.  

Global reliance on American LNG exports is also expected to increase in the coming months. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States led the world in LNG exports for the first half of 2023, averaging 11.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d)—a feat that provides reliable, stable energy to our European allies, including the UK, Netherlands, France, Spain, and Germany, that are still experiencing an energy crisis.

Importantly, the United States is only able to support global allies and local communities with consistent oil and gas production. With offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accounting for 15% of total U.S. crude production and 5% of U.S. dry natural gas production, these leases are vital for meeting increased demand.     

The Gulf of Mexico has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions intensities by global resource type, demonstrating oil and gas operators' commitment to environmentally responsible operations. Talos Energy Executive Vice President and COO, Bob Abendscein, emphasized that Talos works to “employ measures to reduce emissions cost-effectively and facilitate lower-cost subsea tieback investments with a lower emissions profile than constructing a new platform.” Oil and gas operators are already implementing solutions to protect the environment, and these regulations will only increase operating costs, resulting in a potential redistribution of resources to comply. 

Overall, the Gulf Coast is home to 47% of U.S. petroleum refining capacity and 51% of U.S. natural gas processing capacity, making offshore oil and gas production essential across the energy value chain. The reality is, the world is reliant upon American oil and gas production and Texas’ ports. If implemented as currently proposed without sufficient supporting data, these critical habitat designations will directly jeopardize Texas’ oil and gas industry and with it, American jobs.