The Biden administration, faced with a court order to resume federal oil and gas leasing, has resurrected a Trump-era plan to offer millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico that environmentalists describe as the largest offshore sale in U.S. history.
The Interior Department said Tuesday that it would publish a notice this month offering 80.8 million acres in the Gulf. The department is revising the Trump administration‘s 79.7-million-acre plan, which was canceled shortly after President Biden took office as part of his “pause” on new oil and gas activity on federal lands and waters.
A coalition of climate organizations promptly sued in federal court to block the sale. The lawsuit said the order relied on “arbitrary environmental analyses” and cited the disconnect with Mr. Biden’s ambitious climate change agenda.
“President Biden’s administration has recognized that climate change presents immense harms and that bold, immediate actions are needed to achieve emission reductions and curb the climate emergency facing the globe,” said the lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice. “Despite this, the Biden administration’s Interior Department is holding Lease Sale 257.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimated that the sale would result in the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over a period of at least 50 years. The lawsuit said the production would “magnify greenhouse emissions worldwide.”
“The sale will offer over 80 million acres of public waters to the oil and gas industry, making it the largest offshore lease sale in U.S. history,” the complaint said.
The administration is moving forward with a sale it nixed just seven months ago to comply with U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty’s June order halting the leasing freeze pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by 13 states.
The Justice Department told the court last week that it would submit the Record of Decision for the lease sale by the end of August and publish the sale notice in September.
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the free market Heartland Institute, said the president was out of options.
“Nothing Biden could have done will make the environmentalists happy because the court, to be fair, didn’t give him much choice,” said Mr. Burnett. “He had to offer leases. That’s what the court was clear about because under the law, every few months, you’ve got to offer leases.”
Dusting off the Gulf of Mexico proposal, known as Lease Sale 257, made sense because the Trump administration had laid the groundwork, he said.
“[Mr. Biden] has disobeyed the law for as long as he could. He’s got to do something. The easiest thing to do is bring one [sale] that Trump had basically already approved, so there’s no effort on his administration’s part,” Mr. Burnett said.
The American Petroleum Institute said it was “encouraged that the Interior Department appears to be taking the first steps toward following part of the Court’s order to resume federal oil and natural gas leasing.”
“We look forward to hearing more details on the administration’s plans for both onshore and offshore lease sales as directed,” Kevin O’Scannlain, the institute’s vice president of upstream policy, said in a statement.
Indeed, advocates for oil and gas drilling and exploration on federal lands are growing impatient for the administration to offer an onshore leasing sale.
The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday posted a series of notices for proposed onshore auctions in Western states expected early next year.
The Western Energy Alliance and Petroleum Association of Wyoming filed a brief Tuesday in their federal lawsuit against the leasing freeze asking the court to expedite their case. They cited the administration’s “intention not to hold any lease sales in 2021.”
“The Biden Administration’s failure to comply with Judge Doughty’s order to resume leasing on federal lands represents an immediate blow to the funding of public education in Wyoming,” said Pete Obermueller, the association’s president. “By proceeding directly to the merits of our case we believe we can compel the federal government to uphold its obligations under the Mineral Leasing Act.”
Larry Behrens, Western state director for Power the Future, accused Mr. Biden of “hitting our energy workers with a one-two punch.”
“The fact the Interior Department is creating every possible obstacle against production while the President begs OPEC for more oil only makes sense when you realize Joe Biden puts the green agenda ahead of our working families,” he said in an email.
Interior said it would also “undertake a programmatic analysis to address what changes in the Department’s programs may be necessary to meet the President’s targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”