NGOs petition U.S. government to stop offshore oil drilling in Gulf of Mexico

310 environmental, public health, Indigenous, faith-based and community groups sent a legal petition February 8 demanding that the Biden administration immediately stop authorizing new exploration plans, development plans and drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico until it properly examines the climate damage from more offshore drilling.

The petition follows a recent victory in which a federal court threw out the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to offer up more than 80 million acres of the Gulf to the oil industry — the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history. The court held that the agency failed to adequately disclose and consider the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the sale, in violation of a bedrock environmental law.

The Gulf of Mexico has a long and fraught history of being the country’s “sacrifice zone” for offshore drilling. Toxic air and water pollution created by the industry has disproportionately harmed generations of Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities living throughout the region.

“Signing off on more Gulf drilling without even taking a hard look at the harm to our climate is as unlawful as it is morally reprehensible,” said petition author Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal officials have let oil companies drill offshore for decades without ever properly examining the damage. Every new well pushes us closer to climate catastrophe, and the court’s recent ruling shows that Biden has the power and the duty to confront that threat.”

The petition notes that the agency’s legal violations are not unique to Interior’s actions on the recent invalidated lease sale. Interior is also relying on the environmental analyses the court held unlawful to approve exploration plans, development plans and drilling permits throughout the nearly 11 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico already leased to oil companies. The Biden administration has permitted hundreds of new exploration, development and drilling plans and permits in the last year alone.

The petition explains that Interior’s continued permitting of new Gulf drilling without taking a hard look at the impacts on the climate violates the National Environmental Policy Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It requests an immediate halt to the approval of new drilling activity unless and until Interior completes a new analysis that properly examines the climate harms from more oil drilling.

“The writing is on the wall: the Department of the Interior must look at the whole picture of climate impacts before allowing more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. 

“This cut-and-dry mandate is not limited to new lease sales: It also encompasses new permits and drilling activity on pre-existing leases. We’re calling on President Biden to turn this ship around and begin fulfilling his promises of ending offshore drilling and helping historically disenfranchised communities heal in the face of systemic environmental racism.”

Permitting new drilling and fossil fuel infrastructure makes it increasingly difficult for the United States to meet its pledge to help avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming and its unprecedented social, environmental and economic damage.

Several analyses show that climate pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, would push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that avoiding such warming requires ending new fossil fuel projects.

“The court has made it clear that the administration can and must go back and take a hard look at the climate impact of drilling in the Gulf before they allow a single new well to be drilled,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. 

“Continuing to sign off on more offshore drilling without this analysis is completely inconsistent with the court’s ruling and with the administration’s commitment to climate action and environmental justice. We urge the Biden administration to take this opportunity to act on that commitment and break with decades of destruction of the Gulf region by the fossil fuel industry.”

Eighty-five percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from oil, gas and coal. Federal fossil fuel production causes nearly a quarter of the total, worsening the climate and extinction crises and disproportionately harming Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities.

Photo credit: Flickr/Louisiana GOHSEP. Oil covered pelican.

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