Gulf, Alaska, and Environmental Groups File Motion to Intervene in Oil Industry Lawsuit Against Interior Department’s Five-Year Offshore Leasing Plan

Groups aim to defend against industry efforts to maximize offshore drilling in public waters


Jackson Chiappinelli,, (585) 402-2005

Brittany Miller,, (202) 222-0746

Andrew Scibetta,, (202) 289-2421

Gulf, Alaska, and environmental groups filed a motion to intervene in an oil industry lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s Five-Year Program for offshore oil-and-gas leasing — to prevent industry from grabbing even more public waters for profit.

The Interior Department had originally proposed as many as 11 offshore sales, eventually settling on three new sales to be held through 2029. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents hundreds of fossil fuel companies, challenged the final plan in February in an attempt to maximize offshore drilling in U.S. public waters, predominantly in the Gulf of Mexico.

The groups aim to defend against even more oil-and-gas leasing in the Gulf region and Alaska, which threatens the health and safety of people living on the frontlines of fossil fuel development there; risks irrevocably harming already vulnerable ecosystems and species; and undermines U.S. goals to address the climate crisis with significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil-and-gas companies are already well-positioned to continue development far into the future. They are in possession of more than 2,000 active leases that cover more than 12 million acres of offshore territory in the Gulf. Yet only about 25% of those active leases have begun producing oil and gas — meaning industry is sitting on about 9 million acres that it still has available to develop far into the future.

In addition to the motion to intervene, Gulf and environmental groups also filed their own challenge in February to hold the Interior Department accountable for failing to adequately consider the public health impacts on frontline communities in its plan for three new, massive oil-and-gas sales in the Gulf. The Interior Department has said itself that this is a critical issue directly linked to the plan.

“The oil industry continues to want more of our public resources to exploit for their profits, all while ignoring their irreparable harm on our communities and planet,” said Martha Collins, Executive Director at Healthy Gulf. “We will continue pressuring the Biden administration and Interior to stick to what needs to be done: phasing out of fossil fuels and a just transition towards clean, renewable energy.”

“The oil industry is ignoring the on-the-ground reality of increased drilling and instead is continuing to treat our communities in Houston and the Gulf South as a sacrifice zone,” said Kristen Schlemmer, Senior Legal Director & Waterkeeper for Bayou City Waterkeeper in Houston. “To avoid worst-case scenarios for our coast, we must transition to energy sources that will allow us to meet our climate targets — not lock in another generation of drilling.”

“As climate change continues to wreak havoc on our coastal communities, it is irresponsible to consider exponentially expanding fossil fuel extraction endeavors in the Gulf by increasing the number of leases in the five-year plan,” said Joanie Steinhaus, Ocean Program Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We must not lock-in dependency on fossil fuels in the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come at the expense of vulnerable habitats and endangered species.”

“As a primary threat to the ocean, waves and beaches, offshore oil drilling is broadly unpopular and must be phased out. The proliferation of offshore drilling increases dirty oil infrastructure in the ocean and on land. Industry’s efforts to get even more lease sales for polluting oil and gas infrastructure is incompatible with the nation’s climate goals, environmental justice for Gulf communities, and wildlife protection, and therefore must be stopped,” said Angela Howe, Senior Legal Director for Surfrider Foundation.

“Alaskans have been fighting the harmful industrialization of Cook Inlet for decades and we stand in solidarity with frontline Gulf of Mexico communities fighting fossil fuel development in their waters,” said Sue Mauger, Science Director of Cook Inletkeeper.“ The era of oil spills, contaminated subsistence foods, and industry-friendly regulatory loopholes must end; our communities are ready to move forward to a future of cleaner waters, safer foods, and stronger oversight.”

“It is imperative that we stop industry from grabbing more public waters for oil and gas development,” said Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. The impacts of the oil and gas industry continue to be devastating in Alaska, with chronic spills and major releases of oil, methane, and other hazardous substances in a region still suffering the long-term harm caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Alaska is warming at a rate of nearly four times the rest of the planet. We urgently need to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.”

“The oil industry is trying to maximize its profits by maximizing fossil fuel development with zero regards for the clear and imminent danger its activities pose to public health and our climate,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy. “There are already three, massive offshore oil sales slated that the oil industry will use to add to the stockpile of its thousands of unused permits. The idea of demanding even more from the government is outrageous. We hope to be granted intervention to defend the safety of frontline communities and already vulnerable ecosystems, and to put a stop to the oil industry’s continued burning of fossil fuels for years to come.”

“This is not just about protecting public waters; it’s about affirming our commitment to frontline communities and vulnerable ecosystems in the Gulf,” said Brad Sewell, director of the oceans program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The pursuit of additional offshore oil development directly contradicts the urgent need to address climate change and safeguard public health. Big Oil needs to curtail its toxic footprint, which already disproportionately impacts Gulf communities.”

“Greedy oil industry leaders are suing the Biden administration because they want to grab up even more offshore drilling leases, despite already sitting on 9 million acres of ocean they haven’t developed – an amount roughly the size of New Jersey and Connecticut combined,” said Oceana Campaign Director Joseph Gordon. “We face an existential climate crisis and must reject new offshore drilling, as it will only add fuel to the fire of this threat we face. Unfortunately, President Biden has proposed three new leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Justice for our coastal communities and future generations depends on preventing new offshore drilling.”

“Big Oil will stop at nothing to gain more access to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “By the same token, we will stop at nothing to ensure that the nation moves away from this disastrous industry. The federal government has finally begun to take real action toward phasing out fossil fuels. While far from perfect, the Five Year Program is a meaningful step in the right direction for the Gulf of Mexico.”


The oil-and-gas industry’s activities in the Gulf region and Alaska have for years harmed communities living near oil refineries and other polluting infrastructure. Toxic industrial pollution stemming from offshore oil-and-gas leasing has resulted in disproportionate health burdens for residents, including elevated levels of cancer, respiratory illness, rashes, and other ailments. Additional harms have come in the form of dangerous workplace incidents tied to the industry, thousands of oil spills, fires and explosions, and even depressive impacts on local tourism.

Meanwhile, the oil industry has doubled down on the future of U.S. fossil fuel development, despite national and international commitments to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address the climate crisis. This year, U.S. oil production will hit an all-time high, which will keep the U.S. as the world’s largest producer of crude oil. The U.S. already accounts for more than a third of the expansion of global oil and gas production planned by 2050.

Additionally, the oil industry’s activities have pushed vulnerable species to the brink of extinction, including five of seven species of sea turtles in the world, and the Gulf of Mexico Rice’s whale, of which only about 50 individuals remain. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster alone wiped out nearly 20 percent of the Gulf of Mexico whale population. Despite the explicit connection between oil-and-gas development in the Gulf and the diminishing population of the Rice’s whale, in December API sued the government to remove baseline protections for the species. Rice’s whales are so endangered, scientists have said, that losing even one breeding female could spur the first human-caused extinction of a whale species in recorded history.

The Development Driller III, which drilled the relief well and pumped the cement to seal the Macondo well, the source of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill, is seen in the Gulf Of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana.
The Development Driller III in the Gulf Of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

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