Judge blocks White House plan to scale back Gulf of Mexico lease sale

Sept. 22, 2023
A federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to expand next week’s scheduled Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 261.

Offshore staff

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana — A federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to expand next week’s scheduled Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 261 by millions of acres, according to reporting by the Associated Press.  

In the ruling, the court rejected a scaled-back plan announced last month by the Biden administration as part of an effort to protect an endangered whale species.

As originally proposed in March, the Sept. 27 sale would have made 73 acres (30 hectares) of offshore tracts available for drilling leases. That area was reduced to 67 acres (27 hectares) in August when Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced final plans for the sale.

But US District Judge James David Cain Jr. in Lake Charles restored the original coverage area in a Thursday night order.

BOEM’s revision also included new speed limits and requirements for personnel on industry vessels in some of the areas to be leased. These were also blocked by Cain’s order.

BOEM had adopted the reduced area and new rules for next week’s sale as part of an agreement the administration reached last month with environmentalists in efforts to settle a whale-protection lawsuit filed in federal court in Maryland.

Chevron, Shell Offshore, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of Louisiana sued to reverse the cut in acreage and block the inclusion of the whale-protecting measures in the lease sale provisions. They claimed the administration’s actions violated provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, which had stipulations for oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf. They also said the changes after the initial lease sale was proposed in March violate federal law because they were adopted arbitrarily, without sufficient explanation of why they are needed.

“The injunction is a necessary and welcome response from the court to an unnecessary decision by the Biden administration,” said Erik Milito, President of the National Ocean Industries Association, as quoted by the AP. “The removal of millions of highly prospective acres and the imposition of excessive restrictions stemmed from a voluntary agreement with activist groups that circumvented the law, ignored science, and bypassed public input.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement from Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers on the preliminary injunction granted by the US District Court Western District of Louisiana ahead of the planned Lease Sale 261:

“We are pleased that the court has hit the brakes on the Biden Administration’s ill-conceived effort to restrict American development of reliable, lower-carbon energy in the Gulf of Mexico. [The] decision will allow Lease Sale 261 to move forward as directed by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act, removing the unjustified restrictions on vessel traffic imposed by the Department of the Interior and restoring the more than 6 million acres to the sale. This decision is an important step toward greater certainty for American energy workers, a more robust Gulf Coast economy and a stronger future for US energy security.”