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A federal judge has ordered the Department of the Interior to expand the area to be offered for oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico later this month.
The judge said that the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had made a bad move “in the eleventh hour” by cutting the lease sale area by 6 million acres, Bloomberg reported, citing a ruling issued late on Thursday.
Noting that the BOEM had failed to justify this last-minute change, District Judge James Cain wrote “The process followed here looks more like a weaponization of the Endangered Species Act than the collaborative, reasoned approach prescribed by the applicable laws and regulations.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said in August that it would reduce the area to be offered under future lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico from 73.4 million acres to 67 million acres to protect the habitat of a rare whale species.
The change followed a legal settlement with environmentalists regarding the whale habitat, with the BOEM also warning that it would put additional constraints on companies that win bids at the September 27 auction to protect the whales.
The American Petroleum Institute was not happy with this and other changes.
“While the Department of the Interior announced a much-needed offshore lease sale today, the Biden administration continues to throw up roadblock after roadblock to American energy production, prioritizing their campaign promise to stop American oil and natural gas development in federal waters over their duty to meet Americans’ energy needs,” the industry body said in a statement following the August announcement.
The API was among challengers to the decision, along with the state of Louisiana, which said it stood to lose $2.2 million in royalties, and oil majors Chevron and Shell.
Earthjustice, an environmentalist organization involved in protecting the Rice’s whale, said it was considering an appeal.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com