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Biden administration ordered to sell Gulf of Mexico oil leases next month

Posted on November 20, 2023

A federal appeals court ordered the Biden administration to sell drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico within 37 days, a defeat for environmentalists who argued oil leasing and development in the region imperil a critically endangered whale.

The ruling Tuesday by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals means the US Interior Department has until Dec. 20 to conduct the auction that was mandated by last year’s climate law — and is set to be the last of its kind until at least 2025.

When the Interior Department made plans to conduct the sale in September, it yanked some 6 million acres from the auction block amid concerns the territory overlapped with potential habitat of the critically endangered Rice’s whale. The agency also imposed vessel traffic limitations in the area — moves that were challenged by the oil industry in federal court.

The court found environmental organizations didn’t have standing to appeal earlier rulings compelling the auction with the disputed acreage and without the vessel traffic restrictions.

Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said the dismissal was “disappointing and unjustified.”

“The oil industry fought tooth and nail to tear up basic measures to save one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world,” Torgun said in an emailed statement. “This could be the difference between doing the bare minimum to save this species and allowing it to vanish.”

The decision was heralded by the American Petroleum Institute, which pushed for the larger auction alongside units of Chevron Corp. and Shell Plc.

“The US Gulf of Mexico plays a critical role in maintaining affordable, reliable American energy production,” said Ryan Meyer, API senior vice president, in an emailed statement. The decision, he added, “creates greater certainty for the essential energy workforce and the entire Gulf Coast economy.”

The Biden administration did not challenge the lower court order that compelled the auction — and only asked for more time to comply with it. The granted 37 days are designed to allow time for the publication of a new sale notice in the government’s Federal Register and accept new sealed bids for Gulf leases.


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