U.S. holds oil and gas lease sale in Gulf of Mexico after COP26

An oil and gas drilling rig stands offshore as waves lash from Tropical Storm Karen ashore in Dauphin Island, Alabama, October 5, 2013.

Steve Nisios | Reuters

The Biden administration on Wednesday is opening more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to auction for oil and gas exploration, a record-breaking lease sale offshore that will preserve years of greenhouse gas emissions.

The lease sale is a major reflection of Biden’s commitment to close new leases for oil and natural gas in public lands and waters, and comes just days after the president pledged to cut emissions during the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The lease sale has the potential to emit more than 516 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere — equivalent to the annual emissions of 130 coal-fired power plants or 112 million vehicles, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This administration went to Scotland and told the world that America’s climate leadership is back, and now it’s about to hand over 80 million acres of public water in the Gulf of Mexico to fossil fuel companies,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, Dr. – Ares, in a statement.

The president signed an executive order in January directing the Secretary of the Interior to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and waters and to begin a comprehensive review of existing permits for fossil fuel development.

But in June, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction to block the management’s suspension and ordered to continue plans for rental sales that had been delayed in Gulf waters and Alaska.

The US Department of Justice is asking the Court of Appeals to overturn the judge’s order.

Environmental advocacy groups have condemned the management for not taking stronger action to block the injunction and have sued the management over its decision to suspend the sale.

Their lawsuit argues that Interior’s 2017 environmental analysis of the sale in the Gulf is flawed and ignores new data showing increased risks from pipeline leaks.

“The Biden administration is lighting the wick on a huge carbon bomb in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kristen Munsell, the legal oceanic director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is hard to imagine more dangerous and hypocritical action in the wake of the Climate Summit.”

“This will inevitably lead to more catastrophic oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast,” Munsell said.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the department is complying with the judge’s order while the government is appealing the decision, and said the agency “is conducting a more comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas impacts from potential oil and gas lease sales than ever before.”

The Biden administration approved 3,091 new drilling permits on public lands at a rate of 332 permits per month, a pace faster than the Trump administration’s 300 permits per month.

Permit approvals for fossil fuels run counter to Biden’s tough climate agenda, including a pledge to halve US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“The dichotomy between a lease sale and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in the United States is stark,” said Brittney Hardy, a land justice attorney. “By selling these rents, the Biden administration is not solving oil prices today, but rather increasing US climate warming emissions tomorrow.”

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