Planet, profits, promises: Only one of these things truly matters to the U.S. government. That was made abundantly clear this week, when the Biden administration opened the Gulf of Mexico lease sale, which will allow companies to drill for oil and gas within 80 million acres in the Gulf.
Environmentalists are understandably frustrated, especially considering the timing — Biden just returned from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), where he spent two weeks making promises to reduce emissions and protect the planet.
“Today is the day when Joe Biden betrays the whole world,” climate action movement Extinction Rebellion tweeted in response to the news. “Biden's government are doubling down on oil and gas while trying to deflect blame for climate breakdown onto India and China.”
The Gulf of Mexico lease sale has environmentalists frustrated with Biden.
Known as Lease Sale 257, this is the first oil and gas lease sale the Biden administration has made since taking over the White House 10 months ago, as reported by The Hill. It’s also the biggest offshore lease sale in the country’s history.
According to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the administration actually put 15,148 blocks of the Gulf of Mexico for sale, representing 80 million acres; however, the 33 companies that participated in the sale only bid on 308 blocks, representing around 1.7 million acres of the Gulf.
This drew a total profit of $191,688,984 million, which will go to the U.S. Treasury; the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas; the Historic Preservation Fund; and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as per the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
This lease sale was actually first announced on Aug. 31, 2021, according to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). At the time, the CBD, Earthjustice, and a number of other groups sued the presidential administration and the Department of the Interior, in hopes of stopping this.
There was a chance that the lawsuit would make a difference, because in January, shortly after taking office as POTUS, Biden signed an executive order putting an end to new gas and oil leases within public U.S. land and water, according to CNBC. However, over the summer, a federal Louisiana judge granted a preliminary injunction overturning the executive order. So even though the Department of Justice is reportedly working on reversing that order, as per CNBC, the sale still went through today.
Who purchased leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico?
Most of the lease bids came from some of the biggest fossil fuel companies on the market, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell, according to Chron. And, keeping in line with the aforementioned companies’ modus operandi, this will result in devastating greenhouse gas emissions, contributing directly to rising temperatures and the climate crisis.
According to Department of the Interior estimates shared by the CBD, once all 80 million acres are leased and operating, over the next 50 years, they will produce about 4.42 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.12 billion barrels of oil. That’s equivalent to over 516 million metric tons of GHGs.
Gulf communities are now sacrifice zones.
“President Biden can’t claim to be addressing the climate emergency or caring about environmental justice if he continues to treat the Gulf of Mexico and coastal communities as sacrifice zones,” Kristen Monsell of the CBD said in a statement. Sacrifice zones refer to areas that are exposed to significant amounts of water or air pollution.
Furthermore, Monsell is certain that these new leases will lead to more oil spills and toxic pollution, directly hurting the people and wildlife who live near the Gulf Coast — and the Gulf of Mexico has already experienced plenty of fossil fuel-related emergencies this year.
In September, a massive oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, which experts believe started with a pipeline managed by Talos Energy. And in July, a gas pipeline (managed by Pemex) that runs below the Gulf of Mexico burst, causing an ocean fire to erupt — and persist for hours — in the middle of the water.