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Washington, D.C. November 16, 2021– Ahead of the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale tomorrow—the first new fossil fuel lease sale in 2021—Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today criticized the Biden administration’s choice to hold the sale without first explaining in detail to the American people how it intends to reform and modernize the federal oil and gas program, which DOI itself has described as riddled with financial and environmental flaws.
As DOI noted in August, the federal oil and gas program has for more than a decade been on the ‘High Risk List’ kept by the Government Accountability Office, which describes it as vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or in need of transformation.
The upcoming lease sale follows a June ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana that overturned the Biden administration’s pause on oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. The pause on new leases, enacted in January, marked the beginning of a much-needed review of DOI’s oil and gas leasing program. That review has yet to be completed.
“This administration went to Scotland and told the world that America’s climate leadership is back, and now it’s about to hand over 80 million acres of public waters in the Gulf of Mexico to fossil fuel companies,” Grijalva said. “This is happening under the same lax environmental and safety requirements and inadequate financial assurances that have put Americans in harm’s way for decades. Regardless of when we hold lease sales, nothing prevents DOI from informing the public about how it plans to reform and improve the federal leasing program. Tomorrow’s lease sale is a step in the wrong direction, and the administration needs to do better.”
After decades of an industry-first management approach to offshore leasing at DOI, oil and gas companies have stockpiled more than 9.3 million acres of unused, non-producing leases sitting off U.S. coasts. Nearly three quarters of all active offshore leases are currently not in production.
In recent years, GAO has faulted DOI’s offshore oil and gas program for multiple failures, including pipeline safety, taxpayer exposure to clean-up costs, and failing to ensure a fair return on public resources. In early November, Chair Grijalva led a letter to DOI Secretary Deb Haaland calling for the Department to implement critical reforms as soon as possible.