Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Congress to lift the pause on oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico at a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing Thursday. “If this pause turns into something longer than the word ‘pause’ suggests, we know that it will have a tremendously adverse impact on our state,” he said.
At the same time, the governor spoke about the threats the state faces from climate change, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is primarily driven by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use. “We’re experiencing stronger weather and more frequent hurricanes and other storm events,” he said. “Last summer and early fall, Louisiana was hit by four hurricanes. That’s a record in modern times.”
President Biden signed an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing on federal lands, including the Gulf, in January, shortly after taking office. There is not a deadline for when the suspension will be lifted.
The director of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Amanda Lefton, said the pause is limited to leasing and does not affect production or permit applications for existing leases. “There is continued production in the Gulf of Mexico and, therefore, there’s continued revenue that’s coming in,” she said.
Gov. Edwards, a Democrat, said 250,000 people in Louisiana are employed by the oil and gas industry directly or indirectly. “The word ‘pause’ by definition suggests there’s going to be a resumption,” he said. “We want the resumption, and we want it as soon as possible so that the worst impacts don’t happen. And that these people don’t lose their chance at supporting themselves and their families.” U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican, said, despite belonging to the opposite political party, he agreed with the governor’s assessment that ending offshore oil development in the Gulf of Mexico puts Louisiana jobs at risk.
But Lefton pushed back against the idea that the Biden administration’s energy agenda is the reason behind job losses in the oil and gas industry. “There’s a little bit more of a nuanced story here. We’re actually seeing a decline of jobs in the oil and gas industry over the years, in the past four years in particular,” she said. “I think it’s really important to think about what our opportunities are moving forward, and Gov. Edwards just spoke to one of those, which is how can we help transition communities to support new and growing industries like offshore wind.”
Louisiana companies helped develop the first offshore wind project in U.S. waters, in the Atlantic Ocean. The governor has taken steps to develop the offshore wind industry in the Gulf of Mexico. “I know some people would say it sounds like you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth when you talk about climate change impacts on Louisiana and the need to transition to cleaner fuel sources, but at the same time producing on the Outer Continental Shelf,” he said.
Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the need to end offshore drilling is urgent to stop emissions from transporting the oil, refining the oil and consuming it and to prevent further offshore oil spills.
“We don’t have time to wait — the climate crisis demands immediate, bold action,” she said. “It’s disappointing to hear the governor prop up offshore drilling while ignoring the immense damage it does in his apparent attempt to allow the oil industry to keep treating the Gulf as a sacrifice zone.”