Environmental Groups Sue to Stop Federal Oil and Gas Auction in Gulf of Mexico
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, sued the Biden administration Monday to stop the sale of oil and gas drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington, DC federal court, seeks to prevent the auction of approximately 13,600 blocks on 73.3 million acres by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a press release from BOEM said. The lease sale, mandated by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is scheduled for March 29, 2023.
“Our climate can’t afford more oil and gas leasing,” Oceans Program Litigation Director and senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity Kristen Monsell told Sierra Magazine, the magazine of the Sierra Club. “We need to be rapidly transitioning toward renewable, sustainable energy, not opening up more of our ocean waters to oil and gas drilling.”
The sale would be the first in the Gulf of Mexico since 2021, Reuters reported. The IRA included auctions for drilling rights on federal lands despite President Joe Biden’s pledge to end them.
The environmental groups suing the administration argued that just because the IRA has a provision that Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale 259 must be conducted by March 31, 2023, doesn’t mean the government can skirt additional legal mandates that call for an analysis of the sale’s potential impacts.
The groups said the sale doesn’t sufficiently consider the ways in which the oil and gas drilling could affect the stability of the climate and the critically endangered unique Gulf species Rice’s whale, whose population consists of only 51 individuals, Sierra Magazine said.
The environmental groups also said BOEM had “arbitrarily dismissed” the harm to vulnerable communities that would result from the processing of fossil fuels by petrochemical plants and onshore refineries in the area, reported Reuters.
According to the BOEM press release, BOEM published a final supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the sale in January, and there are stipulations in the sale terms of the lease for mitigating potential harm to protected species.
“The EIS said, essentially, ‘Oh, there’s already a lot of oil infrastructure there. So this additional lease is not going to cause any additional harm,’” said Monsell, as Sierra Magazine reported. “It’s a slap in the face to those communities who are getting sick and dying because of toxic pollution from the fossil fuel industry. It’s also unlawful.”
As many as a billion barrels of oil are expected to be produced as a result of the lease sale, as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of fossil gas.
Monsell said the oil and gas sale was consented to in order to get West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s vote for the IRA.
“It’s infuriating to see Democrats playing politics with our climate and our ocean environment,” Monsell said, as reported by Sierra Magazine.
The Gulf lease sale has delayed the first wind energy auction in the Gulf by six months, frustrating advocates of renewable energy. Almost 700,000 acres were scheduled to be auctioned in December of last year in order to build wind turbines to produce electricity for three million homes.
“There will be oil and gas production from existing leases for the next few decades, even if we had stopped leasing today,” George Torgun, a senior attorney with the Oceans Program at Earthjustice, told Sierra Magazine. “And yet we’re continuing to pull these lease sales even in the face of our climate crisis.”
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