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Analysis: Burning Unleased Fossil Fuels in Gulf of Mexico Would Release 33 Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Pollution

Burning Oil, Gas From U.S. Offshore Leasing Could Push Global Temperatures Past Caps Set by Scientists, Nations  

NEW ORLEANS - Burning the fossil fuels under unleased federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico would release the equivalent of up to 32.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — the pollution equivalent of running 9,500 coal-fired power plants for a year, according to a new analysis by EcoShift Consulting and a coalition of conservation and community-based groups. 

Today’s report recommends ending new fossil fuel leasing in the Gulf to help limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global goal set by nearly 200 nations in Paris last year. Instead the Obama administration has proposed to significantly expand offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf, with a final decision on its nationwide plan for 2017-2022 expected by the end of the year. 

The report, Critical Gulf: The Vital Importance of Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, comes as Gulf groups and national environmental organizations are in the middle of “Another Gulf Is Possible,” a series of events highlighting the oil industry’s devastating impacts on Gulf communities and other systems of oppression and exploitation. The events unite racial, social and environmental-justice movements to voice opposition to the next federal offshore lease sale on Aug. 24, which follows devastating flooding from an extreme storm that is likely to become more common in Louisiana as the climate changes. The gathering began with a march Saturday in New Orleans and will include more events in the coming days.  

“We can’t address climate change while expanding drilling the Gulf. This report shows that new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf would be a carbon bomb that will deepen our climate crisis,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Obama needs to align his energy and climate policies before leaving office, starting in the Gulf.”

The Gulf already accounts for about 96 percent of all offshore oil and gas production in federal waters in the United States, the report documents, and the region is suffering from increasingly severe storms, rising seas displacing people, saltwater intrusion, and a wide range of environmental-justice impacts, from health problems in communities of color near refineries to a fishing industry hurt by frequent oil spills. Ending new leasing in the Gulf would be an important step toward keeping a vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground, as climate scientists have called for, and creating a just transition to renewable energy for Gulf communities. 


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“South Louisiana flooded last week because our atmosphere is warm and holds moisture. We are getting repeated wake up calls and yet we stay asleep,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “The time is now — this moment — to end this leasing once and for all and keep this oil where it belongs: in the Gulf of Mexico, beneath the ground."

Developing the entire Gulf of Mexico’s fossil fuel resources would nearly double the greenhouse gas pollution of all fossil fuels already under federal leases, according to the report. Upcoming events will focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground and calls to support frontline communities in the Gulf that have suffered disproportionate impacts from the country’s overreliance on fossil fuels. 

“Offshore drilling in the Gulf violates our nation’s commitments to combat climate disruption and protect communities on the front lines of fossil fuel destruction,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “President Obama can solidify his climate legacy and jumpstart a just transition for Gulf Coast communities by putting an end to new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf.”

Most climate models predict the Gulf Coast will increasingly be hit by more intense storms, like the 1,000-year storm that recently flooded Baton Rouge and much of southern Louisiana, including the home of Cherri Foytlin, a longtime climate activist with Bold Louisiana. 

“Climate change is happening now, sending flood waters through my home and those of thousands of my neighbors,” Foytlinsaid. “We can’t wait any longer to begin a just transition to clean energy. That starts this week by stopping this offshore lease. Then we keep pushing for no new leases in the Gulf of Mexico.”  


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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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