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We’re Fighting a Massive Offshore Drilling Project in the Gulf of Mexico

This page was published a year ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

The Biden administration is offering up 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for sale to oil and gas companies, threatening the health of Gulf communities and marine mammals in the region. That includes the Gulf of Mexico whale, one of the most endangered on earth.

The Department of the Interior commenced Lease Sale 259 — one of the largest oil and gas sales ever in U.S. federal waters — on March 29. Earthjustice is taking the government to court to challenge this unlawful, gratuitously vast handout to polluters.

Leasing public land and water to oil and gas is harmful for people and the planet.

  • A lease sale is when the government auctions off the rights to extract natural resources on publicly owned lands or waters. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a sub-agency of the Interior Department, coordinates leasing offshore.
  • These leases lock us into decades of dirty energy and climate-warming pollution — 25% of the nation’s total climate emissions come from extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels from public lands and waters.
  • This sale in the Gulf prolongs the production of fossil fuels amid the climate crisis, exposes Gulf communities to more hazardous pollution and the threat of another disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and invades essential habitat for the recently discovered endangered Gulf of Mexico (aka Rice’s) whale.

The administration has the authority to hold a less harmful lease sale but chose not to.

  • The Biden administration claims it is holding this sale to comply with a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act, a major climate solutions bill that also included troubling giveaways to fossil fuel interests.
  • However, while the IRA directs the BOEM to hold a lease sale, it does not require such a vast area to be auctioned to industry.
  • Lease Sale 259 would offer up most of the unleased areas in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, which could lead to the extraction of 1 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years.
  • This contradicts the Biden administration’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean energy to fight climate change.
  • The decision to offer up such a large area for sale follows the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, a massive oil project in Alaska that was met by tremendous opposition.

The government did not adequately consider risks to health and marine ecosystems.

  • BOEM is moving forward with this sale based on a flawed environmental impact statement that claims the billion barrels of oil that would be produced by the sale would have negligible greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Toxic refinery emissions, a consequence of the infrastructure that necessarily accompanies new drilling, increase the risk of illnesses and chronic disease for Gulf communities who are already disproportionately burdened.
  • This lease sale will further endanger the Gulf of Mexico whale, a species with only about 50 individuals remaining that faces dire threats from fossil fuel exploration and development. In October 2022, 100 scientists warned in a letter to the Biden administration that, unless protections are increased for the Gulf of Mexico whale, we could see the first human-caused extinction of a large whale species in history.

Earthjustice has challenged Lease Sale 259 in court.

An ultra-deepwater drillship anchored in the Gulf of Mexico.
An ultra-deepwater drillship anchored in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast. (Brad Zweerink / Earthjustice)