Late Thursday evening, a federal court reportedly invalidated the Biden administration’s last-minute restrictions on a forthcoming offshore oil and gas lease sale.
Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana granted plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction request to block the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) restrictions on Lease Sale 261.
Plaintiffs included the State of Louisiana, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and oil companies Chevron and Shell.
The lease sale for millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico is scheduled for the following week.
Cain ruled that the federal government must complete the lease transaction by September 30 under the initial terms.
As a result of a settlement reached in July with environmental organizations, BOEM removed approximately six million acres from the sale and imposed various restrictions on oil and gas vessels associated with the auctioned leases in order to protect the Rice’s whale species that inhabits portions of the Gulf of Mexico.
In a statement following the ruling Thursday, API Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers said it was a positive step in ensuring energy security.
Following its eco resolution in July, BOEM announced that it would offer 12,395 blocks encompassing approximately 67 million acres in multiple regions of the Gulf of Mexico, a decrease from the 13,620 blocks encompassing 73.4 million acres that it had originally intended to offer.
Included in the land removed from the sale were potentially oil-rich tracts located in the center of the lease area.
Offshore lease sales often span large swaths of federal waters, but receive bids on a fraction of blocks projected by companies to contain more resources and to have a higher return on investment.
During Lease Sale 259 in March, BOEM auctioned off 73.3 million acres, but received bids totaling $263.8 million for 313 tracts covering 1.6 million acres.
The groups filed suit after the NMFS coordinated a multiagency consultation examining the effects of all federally regulated oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico over the next 50 years on Endangered Species Act-listed species such as the Rice’s cetacean.
The groups argued in the original complaint that the NMFS’ biological opinion arising from its consultation was not based on the best science.