The Biden administration privately acknowledged late last month that a mathematical error is delaying the federal government’s offshore oil and gas program.

In an April 29 letter to industry leaders obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that a subagency “discovered a miscalculation” that has caused a massive backlog in permitting.


Richard Spinrad acknowledged in his letter that the National Marine Fisheries Service—the subagency tasked with analyzing the impact of offshore drilling projects on wildlife—has used faulty computer modeling on such impacts. As a result, Spinrad wrote, the subagency overestimated wildlife effects, delaying permitting on existing leases.

“NMFS understands the concerns of industry and is working with [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] to expeditiously develop … revised regulations,” Spinrad wrote in the letter to the National Ocean Industries Association. 

The NOAA administrator was responding to an April 5 letter from the National Ocean Industries Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and the EnerGeo Alliance warning that energy producers had experienced significant permitting delays. In particular, oil and gas companies reported delays in obtaining letters of authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct predrilling activity, including seismic surveying and geological exploration, in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Biden administration implemented the faulty modeling through an April 2021 regulation, according to the industry groups.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department, which oversees both NOAA and NMFS, said Thursday that the administration was “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,” the spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “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 Commerce Department spokesperson didn’t answer a question about the current size of the permit backlog.

“Gulf of Mexico seismic permitting delays—when coupled with the lack of progress on a new five-year offshore leasing program and the continuation of a multi-year gap in Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sales—undermine the predictability companies have relied on to make multibillion-dollar investment decisions in the Gulf of Mexico,” NOIA President Erik Milito told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a formal statement.

“At a time when energy issues are at the forefront, NMFS should address the problems as quickly as possible,” Milito said. “Companies must be able to continue to explore for and develop hydrocarbon resources in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Milito and other industry leaders have warned that the delays have “commercial, operational, and safety implications.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and 19 fellow GOP senators wrote Tuesday to the Commerce Department, expressing concern about the permitting delays caused by the math error. The lawmakers demanded that the Biden administration issue a new rule immediately, fixing the issue.

“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,” they wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

“It is unacceptable that agency miscalculations have restricted access to safe, secure, and reliable domestic oil and gas production through substantial, unnecessary, and arbitrary permitting delays,” the senators added.

The Commerce Department planned to respond to Cruz directly, a spokesperson said.

The Interior Department canceled all remaining offshore lease sales May 11, including a sale spanning 1.1 million acres in the Cook Inlet in Alaska. Critics say the Interior Department has dragged its feet on replacing the current offshore leasing plan, which expires in late June, and suggested in the agency’s latest budget proposal that the next offshore sale wouldn’t take place until fall 2023 at the earliest.

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