Judge Blocks Gulf Oil Plan 09/23 07:33
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to
expand next week's scheduled sale of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases by
millions of acres, rejecting a scaled-back plan announced last month by the
Biden administration as part of an effort to protect an endangered whale
The Biden administration on Friday asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in New Orleans to block the order issued Thursday night in Lake
Charles, Louisiana, by U.S. District Judge James David Cain Jr. Environmental
groups represented by the Earthjustice organization also appealed.
As originally proposed in March, the Sept. 27 sale was would have made 73
million acres (30 hectares) of offshore tracts available for drilling leases.
That area was reduced to 67 million acres (27 hectares) in August when
Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced final plans for the
sale. Cain's injunction restores the original coverage area.
BOEM's revision also included new speed limits and requirements for
personnel on industry vessels in some of the areas to be leased --- 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 a 2022 measure, labeled the
Inflation Reduction Act, that provided broad incentives for clean energy, along
with creating new drilling opportunities 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.
Meanwhile, rival litigation filed by Earthjustice and other prominent
environmental groups seeks to halt the lease sale. The organizations say the
lease sale violates the National Environmental Policy. They say the
administration failed to account for health threats to Gulf Coast communities
near oil refineries and didn't adequately the effects of new fossil fuel
development on the climate.
Energy industry representatives welcomed the ruling. "The injunction is a
necessary and welcome response from the court to an unnecessary decision by the
Biden administration," Erik Milito, President of the National Ocean Industries
Association, said in an emailed news release. "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."
An Earthjustice attorney said the order blocks "baseline protections" to
help protect the Rice's whale from extinction.
"These oil companies are looking at the full glass after one sip and calling
it empty," the attorney, Steve Mashuda, said in an emailed statement.