COP26 saw plenty of pledges, promises, and tall talk, but just four days after the landmark climate negotiations concluded, the US is set to sign off the largest ever sale of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists are, understandably, not pleased, describing the leases as "reckless," "hypocritical," and "dangerous."
On Wednesday, the US Interior Department is scheduled to start auctioning drilling leases across 352,000 square kilometers (136,000 square miles) in the Gulf of Mexico for fossil fuel extraction. In total, it could result in the extraction of 1.12 billion barrels of oil and 4.42 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next 50 years.
Don’t forget: tackling climate change is touted as one of the central priorities of the Biden administration. While the President's campaign promised last year to end new fossil fuel drilling on federal lands in a bid to rein in climate-changing emissions, progress has been slow, to say the least. The administration halted drilling auctions on federal lands and waters this year, but lost a court battle against the fossil fuel industry to reinstate the sales in oil-producing states. So far, Biden has approved 3,091 new drilling permits on public lands at a rate of 332 per month, a rate even higher than the Trump administration.
“The Biden administration is lighting the fuse on a massive carbon bomb in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit,” Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “This will inevitably lead to more catastrophic oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast. Biden has the authority to stop this, but instead he’s casting his lot in with the fossil fuel industry and worsening the climate emergency.”
When the new leases in the Gulf of Mexico were announced in August, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental and Gulf groups sued the Biden administration, arguing that the leases were based on outdated environmental analysis that fails to consider new information regarding the numerous harms inherent in offshore drilling.
Biden still has the executive authority to stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters. However, it looks like grappling with the immensely powerful fossil fuel industry is easier said than done.
“This lease sale is deeply disappointing. The Biden administration has folded to the oil industry based on its campaign of disinformation and political pressure, ignoring the worsening climate emergency we face,” Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice attorney, said back in August. “Our planet cannot handle more stress from oil and gas production and yet the Biden administration is plowing ahead with a lease sale that will have impacts for decades into the future.”