© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Environmental groups sue feds over Gulf of Mexico oil, gas leases

Several environmental groups filed a federal court legal challenge to the federal government opening up more than 73 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling.

The lawsuit is over the Department of Interior’s sale of oil and gas leases in unleased areas of the western and central Gulf of Mexico. The nearest area is more than 200 miles west of peninsular Florida.

The Biden administration has come out against some renewals of oil leases. But an agreement with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was included in the approval of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022. The sale is now scheduled for March 28.

The environmental groups say the nation should be moving away from the use of fossil fuels and not enable more drilling. They say it would go against the administration’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean energy.

It is estimated that the leased areas could extract over 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 ½ trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years.

Earthjustice and Sierra Club filed the lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Bayou City Waterkeeper, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity. It was filed against Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The lawsuitalleges the lease sale would jeopardize the survival of endangered marine life. Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles inhabit Gulf waters, and the Gulf is the exclusive home of the endangered Gulf of Mexico (Rice’s) whale, whose numbers may have dwindled to fewer than 50 individuals.

“Selling off more of our lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry is the last thing we should do at a time when we need to be rapidly transitioning away from oil and gas to meet our nation’s climate goals and create a livable planet for all,” said Athan Manuel, Director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “Offshore drilling devastates millions of acres of nature, contributes to an increasing number of climate disasters, and creates a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. While the IRA represents a historic step forward in achieving our nation’s climate goals, we cannot let the bad provisions of the bill, including oil and gas leasing, undercut what we stand to gain.”

“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 Irene Gutierrez, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “This vast lease sale poses threats to Gulf communities and endangered species—like Rice’s whale—while contributing to the climate crisis this region knows far too well. We are holding the agency to its obligation to carefully assess the fallout of this giveaway to Big Oil.”
Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
More On This Topic