Federal judge vacates Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 257

Jan. 28, 2022
BOEM failed to address environmental concerns, says US District Court.

Offshore staff

WASHINGTON, DC – A federal judge has vacated the lease sale of 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that the US Department of Interior had made available for oil and gas drilling, saying regulators used flawed environmental analysis.

In a 68-page ruling on Thursday, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the US District Court in Washington, DC, called the federal agency’s error in its environmental-impact determination “a serious failing.”

Federal officials held Lease Sale 257—which would have marked the largest offshore oil-and-gas lease sale in U.S. history—on Nov. 17 but had not allowed the leases to go into effect yet, according to court papers. The leases could have taken effect as early as Feb. 1, court papers said.

The federal oil and gas leasing program, which has been targeted by climate groups, came under review at the start of the Biden administration. That review triggered several court challenges, including one that led Interior Department officials to conclude that they had to sell the oil-and-gas leases.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, criticized the uncertainty surrounding the program. “At a time of geopolitical uncertainty and rapidly rising energy prices, US oil and gas production is more important than ever to curb inflation and to fortify our national security,” he said in a statement.

Milito further commented: American investment, jobs, and infrastructure development continue to suffer because of the continued expansion of the bounds of the National Environmental Policy Act by the judiciary. It will be incumbent on the Administration to defend responsible US offshore production and to take the necessary steps, including the development of a new US offshore oil and gas leasing program, to ensure continued leasing and energy production from the US Gulf of Mexico, for the benefit of all Americans.

Environmental groups sued over the lease sale in August, saying the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management failed to properly consider the environmental impacts of its decision to open up federal lands for oil-and-gas leases under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Specifically, the groups challenged the federal agency’s calculation of greenhouse-gas emissions in its environmental evaluation, despite other court decisions that laid out acceptable methodology.

“Barreling full-steam ahead with blinders on was simply not a reasonable action for BOEM to have taken here,” Judge Contreras, who was appointed by President Obama, said in the ruling.

Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the agency is reviewing the decision. She did not say whether the agency would redo the environmental evaluation with the intent to hold another lease sale.

“We have documented serious deficiencies in the federal oil and gas program,” Ms. Schwartz said in a statement. “Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we need to take the time to make significant and long overdue programmatic reforms.”