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Court Revokes Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale in Gulf of Mexico

A federal court in D.C. ruled on Jan. 27 that the Biden administration relied on faulty environmental analysis when it offered more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing. This decision protects Gulf Coast communities and the climate by revoking oil and gas leases that the administration auctioned off in a November 2021 sale.

Earthjustice represented Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Earth in a lawsuit that challenged the outdated, inadequate analysis the Department of the Interior used to conclude that the sale was environmentally sound.

We aim to put an end to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Protecting the Gulf is a critical part of that effort.

Oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico harms the climate, wildlife, and communities.

  • The oil industry, with the federal government’s greenlight, has for too long treated the Gulf of Mexico as a sacrifice zone. Further oil and gas drilling would invite destruction and disasters for Gulf Coast communities already suffering from rising temperatures, flooding, and pollution.
  • Underregulated oil and gas development puts Gulf Coast communities, coastal economies, and marine life at risk. Impacted species include sea turtles, dolphins, oysters, and whales — including the Rice’s whale, which is only found in the Gulf of Mexico and is one of the most endangered whales on the planet.
  • While campaigning, President Biden promised to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters as part of his plan to address the climate crisis.

The Biden administration used a flawed environmental assessment to justify holding an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf.

  • The sale in November 2021 was the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history.
  • The administration’s assessment of the lease sale’s environmental impact relied on analysis from 2017. Since then, a United Nations report has warned climate change is becoming a cataclysmic problem.
  • The Biden administration wrongly claimed that the UN report "does not present sufficient cause" to revise the existing environmental analysis and reconsider the ways that new oil and gas development in the Gulf will fuel climate change.
  • The fossil fuel industry is already sitting on more than 8 million acres of available leases in the Gulf. It does not need another 80 million-plus acres.

Earthjustice went to court to hold the government accountable to science and its lawful duty to people and the planet.

  • On August 31, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management following the notice that the lease sale would take place.
  • The court ruled in favor of our clients. It vacated the Department of the Interior’s decision to hold this illegal lease sale. Whatever the department decides to do, it must start with a blank slate and consider the full environmental costs associated with auctioning off our public waters off to the fossil fuel industry.  
  • We’re confident that a full assessment will lead to the undeniable conclusion that holding a new lease sale will cause irreparable harm to Gulf communities and the climate.

The Department of the Interior must put a permanent end to oil and gas leasing in our public waters.

  • As a start, the department should offer no offshore leases in its next five-year leasing plan.
  • “We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet,” says Earthjustice senior attorney Brettny Hardy. “This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the promises it made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all.”

Use your voice for good: Urge the Biden administration to stop offering new fossil fuel lease sales on public lands and waters.

offshore oil field

More than 88,000 gallons of oil leaked from a ruptured pipeline at one of Shell’s offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico in 2016.

Brian McDonald/Shutterstock