With record-high national gas prices and vacation travel season fast approaching, Alabama’s U.S. Senators are calling on the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to act.

In a letter to Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sens. Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville joined 18 other senators in expressing dismay with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) delay in issuing permits required to bring additional production online from existing federal oil and gas leases.

“Agency miscalculations have restricted access to safe, secure, and reliable domestic oil and gas production through substantial, unnecessary, and arbitrary permitting delays,” the letter stated.

The senators call for NMFS to quickly issue the necessary permits to get oil and gas flowing. One reason that prices have increased is the high demand for crude oil and low supply.

Earlier this year, the Biden Administration delayed or stopped work on federal oil and gas leases and permits following a court ruling to account for climate risk when holding lease sales or issuing permits. The U.S. Department of Justice said in February that agencies needed time to assess whether and how they can proceed.

As noted in the letter, the Senators say delays are due to “three administration-made and admitted mistakes” caused by mathematical errors in calculating the number of endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico. A 2021 Final Rule governing offshore oil and gas exploration was based on those faulty calculations.

The mistakes resulted from double-counting estimates and using those miscalculations in developing a 2021 Final Rule.

Alabama, along with Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, receives a royalty from leases in the Gulf of Mexico through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). GOMESA is unique to the Gulf of Mexico, and without ongoing leases, the revenue shared with the states would likely diminish. 

“NMFS’s permitting delays represent one example of the Administration’s de facto ban on new drilling – impeding domestic oil and gas investment, exploration, and production,” the letter says.

According to the letter, there is a backlog of pending letter of authorization (LOA) applications, which federal oil and gas lessees need in order to perform the specific geological surveying necessary to develop their leases. Some applications have been with the agency for well over 100 days, whereas NMFS has historically approved LOA applications within 2 to 4 weeks.

Robyn Patterson, a Commerce Department spokesperson, told 1819 News the department is aware of the letter and is in the process of responding. 

“The Commerce Department has received the letter and will respond to the Senators directly,” said Patterson. “The Commerce Department understands the concerns of industry and is working expeditiously to address the incorrect data it received for the initial rule and to proceed in earnest with the revised rule.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service, in close consultation with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is working to consider all possible solutions to expedite the rulemaking process to the greatest extent possible. NMFS is also engaged with affected members of industry and with industry trade associations as it considers both short-term and long-term solutions.”

Patterson added that NMFS leadership has already met twice with Shell USA Inc. (formerly Shell Oil Company) this month and proposed an immediate path forward. 

Alabama’s senators called on Raimondo to find “tangible short-term solutions to stop any further permitting delays,” including an interim rule allowing permitting to continue, expeditiously issuing a new Final Rule to correct the miscalculations, and shifting resources to process permits under alternative mechanisms.

The letter from the senators closed by insisting NMFS dedicate more attention to this issue than it has over the past year, and for a response through action.

“We expect and encourage NMFS to exercise all available tools to correct this avoidable mistake. Please respond to this letter not with words, but instead with action pursuant to the requested remedies outlined above and with an eye towards allowing energy producers to expeditiously develop their leases,” said the senators.

With the rising cost of gas per gallon and 34.9 million travelers expected to venture more than 50 miles from their homes this Memorial Day weekend, a number up 1.5 million from 2021, the need for increased production is especially evident.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email sean.taylor@1819news.com.

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.