Challenge to First Oil and Gas Lease Sale in the Gulf of Mexico Since the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster

NRDC initiated legal action today against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for violating our most basic of environmental laws when it decided to move forward with an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico without implementing common sense lessons of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010.

This is the third post-Gulf-disaster case NRDC is actively litigating to force change at BOEM, an agency that is proving to be stubbornly resistant to doing right by our environmental laws, continuing to look for easy ways around complying with the letter, and especially the spirit, of laws put in place to protect our oceans and wildlife.

The lease sale will open up about 18.3 million acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico a rich and productive marine environment with abundant and diverse marine life, including threatened and endangered species, as well as species that are critical to the nation’s multi-billion dollar domestic seafood supply, responsible for millions of jobs.  Coastal tourism and commercial fisheries generate more than $40 billion of economic activity annually in the five Gulf states.

As our complaint states, these species and economic activity are threatened by BOEM’s decision to move forward with the lease sale, “without taking into account what this disaster taught us about the likelihood of oil spills, the difficulty of cleaning them up, and their environmental impact on the resources and species of the Gulf.”

The government has failed to apply any of the lessons learned from last year’s Gulf disaster.  Falling back on a claim that catastrophic oil spills are a low probability event, BOEM continues to rely on demonstrably false assumptions about worst-case scenarios, the impacts from spills, and the industry’s ability to respond to spills.  The Presidential Commission that investigated the disaster criticized BOEM’s prior environmental reviews, concluding “that the breakdown of the environmental review process for [outer continental shelf] activities was systemic.”  It’s as if BOEM filed away the Presidential Commission’s report without even cracking it open.  Hopefully this lawsuit will get them to pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and give it a good read.

To quote my colleague David Pettit, “The federal government is failing to learn from one of the most environmentally and economically destructive incidents in U.S. history.  Fresh oil from the Macondo well continues to wash ashore nearly two years later, and the government is being negligent by issuing leases to drill now and drill deeper without ensuring all necessary precautions.

The people of the Gulf deserve better than this.  They deserve jobs that don’t threaten their livelihoods and way of life and they deserve to trust their government not to put those jobs and resources in jeopardy in efforts to drill here and drill now.