Federal Judge Delivers Blow To Biden Admin’s Efforts To Restrict Offshore Oil And Gas Drilling

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A federal judge on Thursday issued a setback to the Biden administration’s efforts to crack down on 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 against the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) move to reduce the area of an offshore oil lease in the Gulf by about 6 million acres and essentially impose restrictive protections for the Rice’s whale in the region. The injunction asserts that DOI and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) implemented the challenged actions in a way that was procedurally invalid, and that DOI’s decision to do so was both arbitrary and capricious.

“The process followed here looks more like a weaponization of the Endangered Species Act than the collaborative, reasoned approach prescribed by the applicable laws and regulations,” Cain wrote in the injunction. “Even when an agency’s decision is based on political considerations, it is not excused from justifying the position—particularly when the decision is a pivot from a prior policy,” he continued, adding that “failure to do so leads to ‘surprise switcheroo’ by an agency against regulated entities.” (RELATED: Biden Admin Considers Banning All Offshore Drilling As Energy Crisis Worsens: REPORT)

Cain ordered the DOI to hold the sale with the restored acreage by no later than Sept. 30, the deadline initially set in the IRA.

“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 of the order. “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.”

Congress mandated the Biden administration to hold the sale of Gulf lease area 261 in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), President Joe Biden’s signature climate bill. In July, the administration settled with activist groups that had legally challenged the sale on the grounds that the federal government had inadequately assessed the risks posed to wildlife by drilling activity in the relevant area.

Then, in August, the administration suggested nominally voluntary restrictions for oil and gas vessels in certain areas of the Gulf, which industry stakeholders told the Daily Caller News Foundation mounted to a de facto mandate at the time. Some of these stakeholders argued that the restrictions, if finalized and followed, would actually increase the amount of emissions generated by vessels transiting the Gulf while posing safety risks due to increased congestion.

Offshore oil production in federally-controlled Gulf waters accounted for about 15% of total U.S. crude oil output in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. As the Gulf of Mexico’s oil is considered less carbon-intensive to produce than oil from most other regions, diminished production in the affected zone could be replaced by more carbon-intensive barrels from elsewhere in the world, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

“We are reviewing the decision,” a BOEM spokesperson said of the injunction to the DCNF.

The Biden administration has aggressively targeted fossil fuels and fossil fuel-related interests to facilitate its broader green agenda. As a candidate for the presidency in 2019, Joe Biden delivered a personal “guarantee” that his administration would “end fossil fuels.”

The White House and DOI did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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