The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday for oil and gas drilling rights. Why did the Biden administration hold an auction for fossil fuel drilling, on the heels of COP26, where countries agreed to “phase down” fossil fuels?

Gulf of Mexico oil drilling lease sale

The lease sale generated $192 million in high bids from 33 companies, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Chevron for 308 tracts covering 1.7 million acres – 2,700 square miles – in federal waters, according to BOEM.

The Associated Press notes, “It marked the largest acreage and second-highest bid total since Gulf-wide bidding resumed in 2017.”

How did we get here?

On January 27, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that imposed a moratorium on all new oil and gas leases on federal land and water.

Read more: Biden just made more big announcements on energy and climate

In June, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration’s executive order. The legal block came after attorneys general from 13 Republican states, led by Louisiana, challenged the moratorium.

The other 12 states were Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

US District Judge Terry Doughty wrote in June:

The omission of any rational explanation in canceling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim.

Rational explanations that Judge Doughty overlooked are the climate emergency and the destruction of the environment.

And the BOEM made it clear in its statement yesterday that the administration is not in favor this sale:

Today’s sale was consistent with a US District Court’s preliminary injunction, while the government appeals the decision.

The Biden-Harris administration is continuing its comprehensive review of its offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programs and initiating reforms.

Moving forward, BOEM will use updated greenhouse gas emission models to take substitution impacts and foreign oil consumption into account, resulting in the most robust projections ever of the climate impacts of offshore lease sales, as well as analyzing the social cost of carbon to better understand the true impacts of fossil fuel leasing decisions.

Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy, who is representing environmental groups challenging Wednesday’s sale in federal court, said:

It’s basically a giveaway to industry of millions of acres of the Gulf of Mexico so they can lock in production for years, at a time when we need to be shifting away from fossil fuel development.

Electrek’s Take

The lease sale is a huge disappointment, and the timing, immediately following the crucial global negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow to keep global warming to 1.5C, is pretty embarrassing for the US.

But what other choice does the Biden administration have but to abide by the law?

The administration is going to have to build a sharp case to reinstate the executive order and stop the drilling for fossil fuels in the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo: “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – Gulf of Mexico” by Kris Krug is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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