Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 25, 2023

Contact:

Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice, (585) 402-2005, jchiappinelli@earthjustice.org
Stephannie Kettle, Healthy Gulf, (407) 361-9432, skettle@healthygulf.org
Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org
Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (914) 806-3467, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org
Shannon Van Hoesen, Sierra Club, shannon.vanhoesen@sierraclub.org
Anne Hawke, NRDC, (202) 329-1463, ahawke@nrdc.org
Marleen Villanueva, Bayou City Waterkeeper, (608) 449-0467, marleen@bayoucitywaterkeeper.org

Lawsuit Challenges Massive Offshore Lease Sale for Failing to Consider Gulf Communities, Climate

WASHINGTON— Gulf community and environmental groups sued the Interior Department today to challenge an offshore oil and gas lease sale that would offer up more than 67 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The department plans to hold the sale Sept. 27.

Lease Sale 261, which the Biden administration canceled in 2021, is the last of three offshore oil and gas lease sales mandated under the Inflation Reduction Act. Lease Sales 258 and 259, held in December 2022 and March 2023, were also revived by the IRA. Those lease sales were challenged in federal court for failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Today’s lawsuit challenges the upcoming lease sale for violating NEPA because Interior did not consider the health threats to Gulf Coast communities living near oil refineries and other polluting drilling infrastructure. The department also failed to adequately consider the climate harm from this massive new source of fossil fuel production. The lease sale could result in the production of more than 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years, resulting in more than 370 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The department agreed to limit the leasing area to reduce the risk of driving the endangered Rice’s whale to extinction. Scientists estimate there may be only 51 Rice’s whales left on Earth.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Bayou City Waterkeeper, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

In September, Interior is expected to release its final proposed five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing. The plan, which lasts through 2028, could include as many as 11 new offshore lease sales. Holding 11 new fossil fuel auctions would sanction up to 70 years of additional fossil-fuel extraction with the potential to emit up to 3.5 billion tons of carbon pollution.

Statements from Earthjustice, its clients and partners:

“Once again, the Biden administration has fallen short of the federal law by neglecting to consider the impact of this massive oil sale on Gulf communities and the climate,” said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. “We’re pleased that Interior excluded habitat for the nearly extinct Gulf of Mexico whale from this lease sale, but it’s equally critical that Interior builds on this step and protects climate and Gulf communities from the harms of leasing.”

“Unfortunately, given BOEM’s history of sacrificing the Gulf of Mexico to Big Oil, this lease sale decision comes as no surprise,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director of Friends of the Earth. “Our lawsuit should also come as no surprise, since BOEM continues to rely on the same outdated, broken environmental analysis. If we are going to make a dent in the climate crisis, business as usual must stop. We are going to keep fighting until the Gulf of Mexico is off the table for good.”

“As steward of the country’s public lands and waters, Interior has a duty to fully consider the harms offshore leasing can cause, from air pollution to oil spills, and beyond,” said Julia Forgie, attorney for NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). “This vast lease sale — for millions of acres — poses threats to Gulf communities and endangered species while contributing to the climate crisis this region knows far too well. We are holding the agency to its obligation to carefully assess these risks and the climate fallout of this giveaway to Big Oil.”

“It’s mind-boggling that in this summer of deadly fossil fuel-driven record heat, fires and flooding the Biden administration couldn’t be bothered to look carefully at the damage this lease sale will cause to people, endangered wildlife and the climate,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Across the country we’re seeing lethal wildfires, boiling ocean temperatures and mass coral die-offs, all caused or exacerbated by a climate unnaturally warmed by fossil fuel emissions. We’ve got to stop letting oil and gas companies make it worse by drilling in our oceans.”

“It is time to transition away from fossil fuels,” said Kristen Schlemmer, legal director and waterkeeper for Bayou City Waterkeeper. “Continued development in the Gulf of Mexico creates unfair burdens on communities in Houston and across the Gulf South. Moving forward with Lease Sale 261 means more drilling in the years to come. It means more facilities in our backyards. It means higher rates of cancer and heart and lung diseases, and it means more risks during major storms.”

“Selling public lands and waters to Big Polluters is incompatible with achieving the ambitious climate goals the Biden Administration itself has set,” said Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program senior attorney. “Fossil fuel extraction is destructive to communities, ecosystems, wildlife, and our climate. The devastating effects of climate change, from heat waves to storms, are particularly harmful to frontline communities, as this summer has shown. Moving forward with this lease sale locks us into extraction for decades to come, right as we should be transitioning to clean energy.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations

Programs: