Biden Administration Handed Big Court Defeat on Offshore Oil & Gas Drilling

A federal judge has invalidated a rule from the Biden administration that would have imposed significant limitations on the upcoming offshore oil and gas lease sale. This decision was made evident in an order released on Thursday.

In a ruling delivered on Thursday evening, Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana has instructed the Biden administration to broaden its forthcoming sale of Gulf of Mexico oil leases, slated for later this month. This action was taken in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Louisiana, the American Petroleum Institute group, Chevron, and Shell, seeking to halt the restrictions imposed by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Lease Sale 261, which was originally scheduled for next week.

The judge has decreed that the sale must proceed under its initial terms and conditions and must be completed by September 30th.

“The court observes that plaintiffs have demonstrated substantial potential costs resulting from the challenged provisions,” Judge Cain wrote. “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.”

The judge found that the plaintiffs have demonstrated a “likelihood that these will burden their operations on current and planned leases,” adding, “the resulting costs would not be undone by the court’s entry of a permanent injunction and order of another sale.”

In his critique of the Biden administration’s rulemaking, he expressed the view that it seemed more like “the exploitation of the Endangered Species Act, rather than the cooperative and well-reasoned approach mandated by relevant laws and regulations.”

The judge noted that federal officials, in the meantime, have sought to “substantiate politically-motivated reevaluation of offshore drilling with scientific justification” through the imposition of restrictions on the lease sale.

In late August, federal officials implemented these restrictions in an effort to safeguard a whale species in the Gulf of Mexico following a settlement with a coalition of environmental organizations. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a notice that enhanced protections for the endangered Rice’s whale.

The new lease conditions eliminated over 6 million acres originally slated for auction and mandated that vessel operators maintain a vigilant watch for whales while adhering to speed restrictions within the whale’s habitat. These modifications arose from an agreement reached earlier this month between federal agencies and environmental groups that had filed a lawsuit in 2020, asserting that the government had not provided sufficient safeguards for the whale population.

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Following Judge Cain’s Thursday ruling, the American Petroleum Institute celebrated the decision, characterizing it as a positive stride toward achieving energy independence and security.

“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,” the group’s general counsel, Ryan Meyers, said to Fox News.

President Joe Biden halted federal drilling auctions immediately after assuming office in January 2021 as part of his climate change agenda.

By Melinda Davies
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