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Biden Administration Set to Auction Off Gulf of Mexico Waters for Oil Drilling in Massive Lease Sale

Offshore parcels up for lease contain nearly twice as much oil as Willow project area

Contacts

Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice, jchiappinelli@earthjustice.org, (585) 402-2005

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Today, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold one of the largest offshore lease sales in U.S. history. Lease Sale 259 will offer up almost all of the available unleased areas in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, which could result in the production of over 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years. By comparison, the controversial Willow project recently approved in Alaska’s Arctic is expected to produce 600 million barrels of oil.

The lease sale, which the public can view beginning at 9 am CT, in New Orleans, was included in a provision of the of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which requires that BOEM hold Lease Sale 259 by March 31, 2023. While the IRA directs BOEM to hold this lease sale, it doesn’t require such a vast area to be auctioned to industry, nor does it exempt the sale from any existing laws for the protection of people and the environment, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Oil companies, who have seen extraordinary profits over the past year stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are well-positioned to bid on leases.

Gulf community and environmental groups filed a federal court legal challenge to the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Lease Sale 259 earlier in the month. The complaint notes that DOI did not consider the health hazards the offshore lease sale will cause for Gulf communities, nor the grave climate impacts of such a massive new source of fossil fuel development and how it will threaten endangered marine life.

With the egregious and unnecessary scope of Lease Sale 259, the Biden administration is directly contradicting its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean energy. The decision to offer up such a large area of the U.S. Gulf follows the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, a massive oil project in Alaska that was met by tremendous opposition from millions who called for the carbon bomb to be halted due to concerns about climate change.

Meanwhile, the United Nations just published its latest IPCC report, which emphasized the vital need to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels everywhere. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the report a “how-to-guide to defuse the climate time bomb” and “a survival guide for humanity.” The report emphasized that the window of opportunity in which to make significant changes will close in seven years; meanwhile, Lease Sale 259 will lock in fossil-fuel extraction in Gulf waters for the next half-century.

And the lease sale is being held weeks before the 13th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP Disaster. While oil spills remain a perpetual source of concern in the wake of that tragic event, the likelihood of climate change causing more powerful hurricanes only increases the risk of future deepwater drilling disasters.

Earthjustice attorney George Torgun made the following statement about today’s lease sale:

“The excessive and reckless scope of today’s oil and gas lease sale demonstrates how badly our federal leasing program needs reform. The Biden administration is not only holding a lease sale that is at odds with the law — but also succumbing to the wants of a profit-rich industry over the well-being of Gulf communities, vital ecosystems, and our urgent climate goals.”

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