Biden rollover on oil and gas leasing spurs suit
Four environmental groups sued the Biden administration over the expected resumption of oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, set to begin this fall with the largest offshore lease sale in U.S. history.
The sale of nearly all unleased areas in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, as well as additional unleased areas in the eastern Gulf, had been scheduled first under the Trump administration. Shortly after the 2020 election, however, President Joe Biden rescinded the lease sale to conduct an environmental impact study. The administration reversed course again when a federal judge in Louisiana determined that it lacked the authority to halt auctions already approved by Congress.
The Interior Department is appealing the decision but meantime will resume leasing. Friends of the Earth filed suit after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management signed a new record of decision Tuesday that increased the area made available for lease from approximately 79.7 million acres to 80.8 million acres. A final notice regarding the sale will be published later this month.
“The Biden administration has folded to the oil industry based on its campaign of disinformation and political pressure, ignoring the worsening climate emergency we face,” Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy said in a statement about the case, which also involves the groups Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Our planet cannot handle more stress from oil and gas production and yet the Biden administration is plowing ahead with a lease sale that will have impacts for decades into the future,” Hardy added.
Friends of the Earth's lawsuit predicts that the lease sale will result in the production of up to 1.1 billion barrels and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of fossil fuels over the next 50 years. And, with the effects of climate change already being acutely felt by communities in the Gulf, new oil and gas leasing will only exacerbate hurricanes, flooding and coastal erosion.
“Frontline communities of the Gulf have been sacrificed to fossil fuel interests for far too long,” Devorah Ancel, a senior attorney with Sierra Club, said in a statement. “As Hurricane Ida ravages the Gulf Coast, it’s never been more obvious that these communities deserve better than business as usual and yet another sale of millions of acres of Gulf waters for oil and gas extraction.”
Friends of the Earth says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management used improper modeling to determine not only that new leasing would not contribute to climate change but that it could somehow reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To this point, the analysis suggests that, without new leasing, foreign sources will substitute for reduced supply — causing the production and transport of the oil to emit more greenhouse gases.
But the lawsuit says this model excludes information about foreign oil and gas markets, including calculations of how holding a lease sale would affect foreign oil consumption.
“Instead, the bureau assumed that the global market would produce an unrestricted supply of oil and gas to replace any oil or gas not produced on a leased area in the Gulf,” the lawsuit states. “Numerous analyses also showed that perfect substitution for oil and gas production simply does not occur in the real world and is not a reasonable assumption.”
Both the Ninth Circuit and a judge in Alaska have already rejected such modeling, determining that it is arbitrary and capricious.
The environmental groups also claim that the 2017 analysis is out of date, considering new information has emerged on the dire state of the climate crisis.