Despite Climate Red Alert, Interior Moves on Gulf Lease Sale

For weeks, wildfires have been ravaging states across the West and diminishing air quality; and Hurricane Ida, after devastating Gulf coast communities and causing new oil spills, wreaked havoc all the way up through the northeast where it set rainfall records, caused flash floods, spurred tornadoes, and tragically killed over 50 people. Millions of people lost power, suffered grave property damage, were forced to evacuate, or were otherwise affected by these climate change-fueled disasters. 

Oil leaks from abandoned pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

NOAA/AP

Even with all this evidence of catastrophic climate change mounting, the Biden administration last week made the decision to move forward with an offshore  lease sale of over 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department estimates the lease sale, known as Lease Sale 257, will result in the production of up to 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years. 

President Biden came into office pledging to take swift action on climate change. In one of his earliest actions, he put a pause on leasing federal lands and waters for oil and gas production while directing Interior to initiate reforms. But oil-producing states filed a lawsuit challenging the moratorium, and a Trump-appointed federal judge in the Western District of Louisiana found it illegal. Following additional legal threats from the states, the Department of Interior decided to quickly proceed with Lease Sale 257.

What’s more, this lease sale will be business as usual. It apparently won’t include any reforms, like toughened environmental or safety safeguards or higher bonding rates. To allow more leasing, without fixing our broken leasing system, is to court disaster. In Ida’s aftermath, oil is already leaking into the Gulf from multiple spills. With more hurricanes to come, it is only a matter of time before the next big spill, given the tangle of abandoned pipelines and infrastructure in the Gulf. And countless communities are still reeling and (literally) picking up the pieces while future cataclysmic storms gather in the Atlantic. The last thing we need is to increase the risks of harm. 

For far too long, the fossil fuel industry has benefitted at the expense of people and the planet. Even after discovering the link between carbon emissions and climate change in the 1970s, the fossil fuel industry continued to burn climate change-causing resources while lying to lawmakers and the public in order to build their own political power and block much needed climate policy. As the most recent IPCC report makes clear, what we do, or fail to do, with decisions that have long-term consequences like Lease Sale 257 could determine whether we secure a livable or catastrophic climate. The days of the fossil industry driving our climate and energy policy must come to an end. 

Lease Sale 257 will hand millions of acres of public ocean over to the oil and gas industry, allowing them to make investments that will lock in our use of dirty, climate change-causing fossil fuels for decades to come. At a moment when we urgently need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to avert the worst impacts of climate change, it is hugely counterproductive to expand offshore leasing.

Continuing to offer more offshore oil lease sales is not the path to meeting the Biden Administration’s climate goals. There are three more lease sales left in the current offshore drilling five-year program that ends next summer, two in the Gulf and one in Alaska. DOI should cancel those lease sales and issue a 5-year plan with no planned leases. We cannot afford the climate fallout of continuing to burn fossil fuel: it is past time to end new leasing in federal waters. We need to shift quickly to a renewable energy future, with sustainable jobs, and stop investing in dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.

About the Authors

Lauren Kubiak

Senior Policy Analyst, Oceans Division, Nature Program

Valerie Cleland

Oceans Advocate, Nature Program

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