Oil and gas companies on Wednesday purchased rights to drill across more than 1.7 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico, an area larger than the state of Delaware, locking in fossil fuel development that won’t begin for years but will likely last for decades.
The offshore lease sale — the largest in U.S. history — offered up more than 80 million acres of the Gulf to oil and gas interests at a time when scientists are warning that the world must rapidly move away from planet-warming fossil fuels in order to prevent catastrophic climate impacts.
Thirty-three companies submitted a total 317 bids on 308 offshore tracks, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The auction brought in more than $191 million in high bids.
Oil giant ExxonMobil accounted for nearly one-third of all submitted bids.
The sale dwarfed the Trump administration’s final Gulf lease sale in 2020, when 518,000 acres went for $121 million. And it comes just days after United Nations climate summit in Scotland, where President Joe Biden and his team promised U.S. leadership during “a decisive decade” for confronting the threat of global climate change.
The Biden administration argued its hands were tied and it could not stop the offshore auction, following the June decision by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana that struck down Biden’s executive order in January temporarily pausing new oil and gas leases across federal lands and waters. But environmental lawyers told HuffPost the administration had options for scaling back, delaying or halting the sale, including requesting that an appeals court stay — or suspend — the injunction.
Biden’s Justice Department appealed the Louisiana ruling in August and submitted its first brief in the case on Tuesday, the day before the auction.
“We believe the decision is wrong,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday briefing. “We’re required to comply with the injunction. It’s a legal case and legal process, but it’s important for advocates and other people out there who are following this to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies, or the executive order that he signed.”
Environmental groups sent out a frenzy of statements this week condemning the administration for proceeding with a sale that many have described as a “carbon bomb.”
“This morning was met with extreme disappointment, depleted hope, and shattered trust,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “We are left aghast that the administration has ignored its clear authority to defer the sale and our final hope lies with the federal court to remedy these violations.”
In September, Earthjustice sued the administration on behalf of several environmental groups in an attempt to block the Gulf lease sale.