Lawsuit challenges Gulf oil, gas lease sale

Several environmental entities are challenging the Trump administration in court over an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico that would open up over 78 million acres to offshore drilling operations.

The lawsuit was filed in mid-March by Earthjustice on behalf of Healthy Gulf (formerly known as Gulf Restoration Network), the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, after the Interior Department announced that the agency would hold its next lease sale on March 20.

A ruling in the case is expected in early summer.

The lease sale would be the largest ever offered for oil and gas development in U.S. history, with more acreage open than sales in 2018.

“The Trump administration is barreling ahead with expanded oil and gas drilling in our oceans while simultaneously erasing critical protections that protect Gulf coasts and giving oil and gas companies a pass from complying with existing safely requirements. This is just a recipe for disaster,” said Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice attorney.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington D.C., challenges what Earthjustice contends is flawed analyses of the environmental effects of such sales, which rely on incorrect assumptions about the safety regulations and royalty rates that would apply to the leases.


Legal counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity said that the Interior Department based several of its conclusions on Obama-era policies, including the Well Control Rule, which President Donald Trump’s administration is now rolling back or eliminating. Additionally, the lawsuit charges that Interior significantly underestimates the degree to which each lease sale would affect overall oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Well Control Rule, established in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy of April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, included a serious of notices and regulations to improve safety offshore. Eleven people died and 17 were injured in Deepwater Horizon, considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, with an estimated total discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil.  The spill also caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and the fishing and tourism industries.