On Thursday, a federal judge annulled an oil and gas lease in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia, the Biden administration failed to account for the auction’s climate impact.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Lease Sale 257 offered over 80 million acres of potential oil fields for sale last year. Of the 80 million acres, 1.7 million acres were sold for over $190 million. This is the highest sale price since 2019. However, Judge Contreras’s recent decision invalidates these sales.
Leading up to this decision, environmental protection group Earthjustice, alongside other groups, challenged the lease. The groups argued that the government relied on old data that did not accurately demonstrate the climate impacts of drilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Critics want the government to factor in the potential projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, including all emissions from consumption abroad.
“We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior’s illegal lease sale,” said Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice’s senior attorney, in a statement. “We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet.”
The ruling has thrown the U.S. gas and oil industry into confusion. While U.S. federal offshore drilling has been a big revenue source, President Biden made campaign pledges to end further oil and gas exploration. This promise failed to materialize when Gulf Coast states sued.
As Reuters reported, it’s “unclear how the ruling would affect the administration’s plans to offer more than 300,000 acres of onshore leases to drillers by the end of this quarter.” Amid this uncertainty, the offshore drilling industry has been vocal in critiquing the recent court decision.
“Uncertainty around the future of the U.S. federal offshore leasing program may only strengthen the geopolitical influence of higher emitting – and adversarial – nations, such as Russia,” Erik Milito, President of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), said. The NOIA website describes the organization as serving “the offshore oil, gas, wind and ocean minerals industries.”
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