A U.S. federal judge on Thursday invalidated the largest sale of offshore oil and natural gas leases in U.S. history, concluding that the government did not sufficiently take into account the climate crisis when it auctioned those leases last year.
The ruling invalidates an auction of 80 million acres (32 million hectares) in the Gulf of Mexico, of which 1.7 million acres (0.6 million hectares) were sold for offshore oil and natural gas drilling off that southern U.S. coast.
Judge Rudolph Contreras, of the federal court in the District of Columbia, where Washington is located, decided to set aside those concessions by considering that the analysis made on the project by the US government under Donald Trump (2017-2021) did not adequately assess its impact on the climate.
Shortly after coming to power a year ago, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the suspension of new oil and natural gas concessions in federal areas and U.S. territorial waters.
However, in the middle of last year a Louisiana judge invalidated that moratorium, and the Biden Administration was forced to proceed with the sale of those concessions in November last year, despite assurances that it did not agree.
Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil paid $192 million for the right to drill on the 1.7 million acres, with the concessions yet to be issued.
Environmental advocacy groups then filed a lawsuit to invalidate the sale, and Judge Contreras ruled in their favor Thursday, calling the Trump administration’s analysis in arranging the grants “arbitrary and capricious.”
The ruling means that the Biden administration will have to conduct a new environmental analysis to quantify the climate impact that future oil and gas extraction in the area would have, and then decide whether to push for concessions again.
“We’re confident that once they correctly model (what) the emissions (from the project) will be, given the climate crisis we’re in, they’ll come to the conclusion that the concessions don’t make sense right now,” attorney Brettny Hardy of one of the plaintiff groups, Earthjustice, told the Washington Post.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas companies, said in a statement that it is reviewing the judge’s “disappointing decision” and evaluating its options, and defended the impact of offshore drilling on the U.S. economy.