U.S. Judge Scraps GOM Lease Sale Due To Climate Impact

U.S. Judge Scraps GOM Lease Sale Due To Climate Impact
A federal judge invalidated the results of Gulf Of Mexico oil and gas Lease Sale 257 which offered up more than 80 million acres.

A federal judge has invalidated the results of a Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale concluding that the Biden administration failed to account for the auction's climate change impact.

The ruling can be considered as a major win for environmental groups that sued to block what they deemed an “illegal lease sale.”

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth on August 31 last year against Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management following the notice of Lease Sale 257.

The lawsuit argued that the 2017 environmental analysis that the Biden administration relied on to hold the sale is fatally flawed.

According to Earthjustice, the sale was not only counter to the administration’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent to 52 percent by 2030 and meet U.S. climate commitments, but it was illegal and based on previously debunked environmental analysis.

The offshore sale was the largest in U.S. history and offered up more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico at auction. Oil and gas companies ultimately bid more than $191 million for rights to drill across more than 1.7 million offshore acres. It is worth noting that the fossil fuel industry is already sitting on 8 million acres of leases on public waters.

Judge Rudolph Contreras, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sided with the plaintiffs in the case, who argued that the Department of the Interior relied on a faulty analysis that underestimated the planet-warming greenhouse gases and associated environmental effects from future drilling and development of the leases.

The court held that the Interior failed to accurately disclose and consider the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the lease sale, violating a bedrock environmental law.

Contreras faulted the administration for excluding foreign consumption from its greenhouse gas emissions analysis and for ignoring the latest science about the role of oil and gas development on global warming.

Earthjustice claimed that the D.C. District Court decision holds the Interior accountable for grossly underestimating the climate impacts and risks to Gulf communities before deciding to hold the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history.

“We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior’s illegal lease sale. We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet,” said Earthjustice’s Senior Attorney, Brettny Hardy. “This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all. Interior should use its next 5-year leasing plan to protect our coastal communities and public waters and offer no new offshore leases.”

“Today, we can look forward to the day when we stop selling off our public waters for pennies on the dollar when a just transition to a clean energy future is critical to our very survival. Now, the Gulf can be seen as a viable field for offshore wind energy that will power our future,” Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf, added.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department, Melissa Schwartz claimed that there was nothing that the administration could do since Lease Sale 257 had to be held to comply with the injunction imposed in the District Court of Louisiana litigation. She added that the Court’s decision concerning the deficiencies of the sale would be reviewed.

To contact the author, email bojan.lepic@rigzone.com

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