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Environmental Groups File Suit to Nullify Wednesday's Oil and Gas Lease Sale

by Richard Thompson

Environmental groups have filed suit to nullify the results of the first oil and natural gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico since last year's BP oil spill, scheduled for Wednesday in New Orleans.

In the suit, the groups allege that federal regulators are not better prepared to contain or prevent spills in the region, and that the government continues to rely on the same assumptions that failed in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and in the three-month-long response attempting to cap the busted well and clean up the spilled oil. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The suit alleges that the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, has not advanced in oil spill preparedness or analysis to prevent oil spills in the region since the April 2010 disaster, and continues to rely on assumptions that failed in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and in the month-longs attempt to cap the runaway Macondo well, which dumped 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf.

The sale is set to include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf Planning Area off the Texas Coast.

In the suit, the groups allege that federal regulators are not better prepared to contain or prevent spills in the region, and that the government continues to rely on the same assumptions that failed in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and in the three-month-long response attempting to cap the busted well and clean up the spilled oil.

The suit aims to nullify the results of the lease sale until BOEM has taken several lessons learned from the spill into account.

The agency is "continuing the same irresponsible approach that led to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and harm still being felt in the Gulf," said Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, who represents the groups in court. "It's easier for the government and oil companies to return to business as usual without considering the oil spill's impacts on the Gulf, but it's illegal and irresponsible."

The sale has attracted 241 bids submitted by 20 companies on 191 tracts offshore Texas, compared to 189 bids submitted by 27 companies on 162 tracts during the previous Western Gulf Lease sale in August 2009, BOEM said in a statement Tuesday.

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