Today the Biden administration confirmed its plans to offer 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, a plan Earthjustice states is illegal and contrary to the administration’s pledge to act on climate. The notice of the sale was officially entered into the Federal Register today. Over the weekend, a pipeline off Huntington Beach, California ruptured spilling more than 126,000 gallons of oil, closing beaches, leaving dead fish and seabirds in its wake, and decimating a fragile wetlands ecosystem. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard continues to track oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico from oil infrastructure damaged during Hurricane Ida. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office published a report that shows Interior does not adequately conduct subsea inspections of offshore pipelines or ensure that oil companies properly decommission older pipelines.
The Biden administration will be holding the oil and gas lease auction on Nov. 17, 2021. On Aug. 31, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia against Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity challenging Interior’s decision to hold lease sale 257. The lawsuit argues that the 2017 environmental analysis the Biden administration is relying on to hold the sale is outdated. Among other things, it ignores new information showing the rising dangers from pipeline leaks.
The following is a statement from Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice attorney:
“The Biden administration’s decision to open up the Gulf to more drilling is not only hypocritical to their stated goals to act on climate, it is illegal. The administration is relying on an environmental analysis that is deeply flawed and outdated. Plaintiffs alerted Interior to its many problems, and yet, they are plowing ahead with a Trump administration plan. This is a continuation of the prior administration’s reckless and unlawful behavior, all while the real repercussions of offshore drilling are apparent by the unfolding oil disasters in both the Pacific and the Gulf. We’re deeply disappointed by the Biden administration’s failure to follow the law and to fulfill its promises. So we will see them in court.”
The environmental analysis of the proposed sale relies on improper modeling to conclude that not having the lease sale will result in more greenhouse gases. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this approach last year. In August, a federal district court in Alaska found that the same conclusion was deeply flawed after the Department of the Interior tried to rely on it again for a large oil development project in Alaska’s Western Arctic.
The Interior Department last looked at the environmental impacts of a Gulf lease sale in 2017. Since Interior completed its environmental analysis, significant new information has emerged that demonstrates, among other things, the dire state of the climate crisis and the potential for increased harm to endangered species, including the Rice’s whale, one of the most endangered whales on the planet, that is only found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Last week, the Center for American Progress released a paper that finds that oil and gas interests gave a combined $4.5 million to the campaigns of the 14 governors and attorneys general that sued the Biden administration over the leasing pause put in place shortly after President Biden entered office.
Interior’s own estimates show that the sale could lead to the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels of oil and 4.2 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next 50 years, which will contribute substantial greenhouse gas emissions.