Feds schedule Gulf offshore oil lease sale for November

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration says it has followed a court order to schedule an offshore oil and gas lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico after the Democratic president’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands was blocked by a judge.

The sale will be livestreamed from New Orleans on Nov. 17, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced in a news release Thursday. Bidding will be only by mail; walk-in bids won’t be accepted, it said.

The agency postponed lease sales scheduled in March to comply with Biden’s executive order to combat climate change. Scientists urge immediate action to slash greenhouse emissions to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, including devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts.

But Louisiana and 12 other states sued, and in June a federal judge found that the government had omitted steps required for such actions. The administration said in August it would comply while appealing the judge’s order.

“The Biden Harris Administration is continuing its comprehensive review of the deficiencies associated with its offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programs,” the bureau’s statement said.

The sale will cover roughly 136,000 square miles (352,000 square kilometers) located from 3 miles to 231 miles (five to 370 kilometers) offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with water depths ranging from 9 feet to more than 11,115 feet (3 to 3,400 meters).

Less than 2% of available water bottom was leased in August 2020.

The agency said lease stipulations will protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts between oil and gas development and other activities and users in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia joined Louisiana in challenging the lease sale suspension.

The scheduling “is welcome news for the American worker and our national security,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

“The U.S. Gulf of Mexico supports more than 345,000 jobs, many of which are accessible, high-paying and cannot be easily substituted, and generates vital government revenues for conservation and recreation programs,” he said.

And, he said, U.S. offshore oil and gas produces less carbon than imports that would be needed if U.S. wells all shut down.

Several environmental groups sued Interior Secretary Debra Haaland in August, trying to prevent the sale. The lawsuit, brought by Friends Of The Earth, Healthy Gulf, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, contends that the bureau didn’t meet a legal requirement to carefully study the sale’s environmental impacts and substantially underestimated such effects..

“Climate change is rapidly intensifying Gulf storms, fueling uncontrollable wildfires in the West and threatening numerous species with extinction,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans program litigation director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to end offshore oil drilling, not burden future generations with this dirty and dangerous folly.”