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The latest victim in Biden's war on American energy

The Biden administration struck a deal with activists, locking away millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico from oil and gas development and imposing vessel restrictions.

Buried deep in a summer Friday news dump, the Biden administration quietly imposed the latest barriers targeting American energy. 

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) struck a consequential voluntary agreement with activist organizations, locking away millions of highly prospective acres in the Gulf of Mexico from oil and gas development and imposing wide-ranging vessel restrictions.

The Biden administration claims to be concerned about protecting Rice's whales, a species safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, the administration’s actions hurt low carbon and responsible domestic energy production in the Gulf and may only dilute conservation resources going to protect these whales. 

The agreement with the activist groups significantly expands the protected area for the Rice's whale. The area now amasses approximately 28,000 acres and covers vast portions of the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, spanning from Pensacola, Florida, to the Texas/Mexico border. 


The consequences of the agreement are two-fold:

Millions of acres that are attractive for potential oil and gas production are now closed for future lease sales, hurting the outlook for continued production.

New restrictions, such as vessel speed limits, travel restrictions during nighttime and periods of low visibility, and additional reporting and monitoring requirements are now in play. These changes are likely to cause delays and increase costs for vessels crossing the Gulf for almost every industry and overflow our strategic ports with new delays.

To put it generously, these restrictions are the latest misstep in the administration’s energy policy. 

For decades, America’s energy producers have worked diligently to successfully improve efficiency, productivity and safety, while lowering emissions. The new nighttime and low visibility restrictions reduce vessel transit windows by up to 50%, unnecessarily slowing American energy production. Vessels will needlessly idle, potentially for hours, waiting for daylight or better visibility and further delaying supply chains and increasing emissions.


The federal government is also considering expanding "mitigation" measures to regulate all traffic to U.S. ports in the Gulf, including cargo vessels, cruise lines, and fishing boats. Yet a 2020 Biological Opinion developed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NMFS agreed that the potential for vessel strikes on Rice’s whales is improbable, citing the already-slow transiting and surveying speeds imposed on large vessels. 

According to the National Ocean Industry Association (NOIA), approximately 65% of the length of the proposed expanded critical habitat for the Rice’s whale is traversed by international shipping fairways. These rules kickstart a cascade of delays impacting national supply chains. 

Once vessels eventually make it to port, past the bottleneck created by transit windows, there will be unprecedented delays as everyone tries to unload their goods all at once. These delays could impact fuel for jets or even basic raw materials for communities along the Gulf weathering hurricane season. The distribution of critical goods and energy will take longer, be inefficient, and increase costs for consumers.

The federal government in January of this year admitted that expansion of the protected area was not warranted. In fact, in the Federal Register, the NMFS states that the previous core habitat, which was a much smaller area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico was "adequate representation." Researchers were able to tag and track a Rice’s whale and it never left this smaller habitat area.


These new restrictions are also completely unnecessary. As noted by the NMFS on its own website, only "a single Rice’s whale was observed in the western Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas." 

The addition of these various "mitigation" efforts will have detrimental impacts on Gulf and Mississippi River commerce that will far outweigh any argued benefit to the Rice’s whale species. Wildlife protection and conservation are universal goals shared by every Gulf resident, yet the administration's approach lacks transparency and excludes the voices of educated stakeholders and experts in favor of select activists.

These recent restrictions further limit American energy production, particularly amid rising inflation and global supply chain problems. Instead of adding more red tape, the administration should collaborate with Congress to make smart environmental choices while encouraging domestic energy production.

The Biden regulatory agenda has dire consequences not only for the energy sector, but for the entire Gulf economy. We can walk and chew gum at the same time – we can be both environmentally responsible while protecting American jobs and energy. 

We are fighting for smarter policies so our energy workers can continue to produce safe and affordable American energy.


Erik Milito is president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), a national trade association representing the full spectrum of offshore energy companies.

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