The Biden administration faced another setback in its green energy agenda as a federal judge has halted the president’s attempt to restrict oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. District Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday, blocking the administration’s last-minute effort to stop an upcoming offshore oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf.
This injunction came in response to a request from plaintiffs, including the State of Louisiana, industry association American Petroleum Institute (API), and oil companies Chevron and Shell. It prevents the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) from enforcing restrictions on Lease Sale 261, which covers millions of acres across the Gulf of Mexico and was scheduled for the next week.
Judge Cain ruled that the federal government must proceed with the lease sale under its original terms by September 30. In July, BOEM had excluded about six million acres from the sale and imposed various limitations on oil and gas vessels connected to the leased properties. These measures were implemented to protect the Rice’s whale species living in specific Gulf of Mexico areas as part of a settlement with environmental organizations.
“The court observes that plaintiffs have demonstrated substantial potential costs resulting from the challenged provisions,” Cain wrote in his ruling. “While the government defendants largely focus on the acreage withdrawal and dynamics of the sale itself, many of plaintiffs’ alleged hardships arise from the vessel restrictions.”
“Industry plaintiffs have shown a likelihood that these will burden their operations on current and planned leases,” the ruling added. “The resulting costs would not be undone by the court’s entry of a permanent injunction and order of another sale.”
Cain also said he viewed the Biden administration’s actions as an attempt to “provide scientific justification to a political reassessment of offshore drilling.” He also said the administration’s behavior looked “more like a weaponization of the Endangered Species Act than the collaborative, reasoned approach prescribed by the applicable laws and regulations.”
API Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers said after the ruling:
“We are pleased that the court has hit the brakes on the Biden Administration’s ill-conceived effort to restrict American development of reliable, lower-carbon energy in the Gulf of Mexico,” Meyers said in a statement.
“Today’s decision will allow Lease Sale 261 to move forward as directed by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act, removing the unjustified restrictions on vessel traffic imposed by the Department of the Interior and restoring the more than 6 million acres to the sale,” he added. “This decision is an important step toward greater certainty for American energy workers, a more robust Gulf Coast economy and a stronger future for U.S. energy security.”