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Judge Blocks Gulf Oil Plan    09/23 07:33


   NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to 
expand next week's scheduled sale of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases by 
millions of acres, rejecting a scaled-back plan announced last month by the 
Biden administration as part of an effort to protect an endangered whale 

   The Biden administration on Friday asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of 
Appeals in New Orleans to block the order issued Thursday night in Lake 
Charles, Louisiana, by U.S. District Judge James David Cain Jr. Environmental 
groups represented by the Earthjustice organization also appealed.

   As originally proposed in March, the Sept. 27 sale was would have made 73 
million acres (30 hectares) of offshore tracts available for drilling leases. 
That area was reduced to 67 million acres (27 hectares) in August when 
Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced final plans for the 
sale. Cain's injunction restores the original coverage area.

   BOEM's revision also included new speed limits and requirements for 
personnel on industry vessels in some of the areas to be leased --- also 
blocked by Cain's order.

   BOEM had adopted the reduced area and new rules for next week's sale as part 
of an agreement the administration reached last month with environmentalists in 
efforts to settle a whale-protection lawsuit filed in federal court in Maryland.

   Chevron, Shell Offshore, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of 
Louisiana sued to reverse the cut in acreage and block the inclusion of the 
whale-protecting measures in the lease sale provisions. They claimed the 
administration's actions violated provisions of a 2022 measure, labeled the 
Inflation Reduction Act, that provided broad incentives for clean energy, along 
with creating new drilling opportunities in the Gulf. They also said the 
changes after the initial lease sale was proposed in March violate federal law 
because they were adopted arbitrarily, without sufficient explanation of why 
they are needed.

   Meanwhile, rival litigation filed by Earthjustice and other prominent 
environmental groups seeks to halt the lease sale. The organizations say the 
lease sale violates the National Environmental Policy. They say the 
administration failed to account for health threats to Gulf Coast communities 
near oil refineries and didn't adequately the effects of new fossil fuel 
development on the climate.

   Energy industry representatives welcomed the ruling. "The injunction is a 
necessary and welcome response from the court to an unnecessary decision by the 
Biden administration," Erik Milito, President of the National Ocean Industries 
Association, said in an emailed news release. "The removal of millions of 
highly prospective acres and the imposition of excessive restrictions stemmed 
from a voluntary agreement with activist groups that circumvented the law, 
ignored science, and bypassed public input."

   An Earthjustice attorney said the order blocks "baseline protections" to 
help protect the Rice's whale from extinction.

   "These oil companies are looking at the full glass after one sip and calling 
it empty," the attorney, Steve Mashuda, said in an emailed statement.


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