The Biden administration is auctioning off more than 73 million acres of water in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil and gas drilling just a few weeks after approving the contentious Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management of the Interior Department will hold a leasehold sale for a region more than twice the size of Willow on Wednesday. After Joe Manchin included it in the landmark climate and energy measure President Joe Biden signed into law last year, the administration was compelled to postpone the sale.
Companies expressed interest in bidding on 1.6 million of the 73 million acres the Biden administration offered, according to federal data released Tuesday night. In an effort to halt the lease sale, environmental organizations have already filed a lawsuit, claiming that Interior’s environmental review was defective. They also take issue with the sale’s magnitude and breadth.
Nothing in the IRA asks for such a large scale, said to George Torgun, a lawyer for the environmental rights organization Earthjustice. It will be twice as big as Willow if everything goes according to plan. For the following 50 years, it will guide the development of fossil fuels in the Gulf. In the past, Earthjustice has successfully sued to halt a project of a similar nature. An even larger Gulf oil and gas lease sale of 80 million acres was canceled last year by a federal judge who found that Interior’s environmental analysis had not fully taken into consideration the effects of climate change.While Wednesday’s drill auction wasn’t the first under the Biden administration, it could be the first to hold.
A messy and protracted legal battle follows over another leasehold sale of 80 million acres offered in 2021 after a Louisiana judge threw out Biden’s attempt to ban new oil and gas leases on state land and water. Interior eventually terminated those leases, citing the delays caused by “conflicting court rulings.”
Manchin, who spearheaded the Inflation Reduction Act, wrote specifically in the statute requiring Interior to complete new oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf and Cook Inlet of Alaska. Wednesday’s sale won’t be the last; another sale is planned for September.
Wednesday’s lease sale comes after the Biden administration’s controversial decision to give the green light to the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.