Illustration; Source: BOEM

Date set for next Gulf of Mexico oil & gas lease sale

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has set a date for the next offshore oil and gas lease sale for acreage in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) after postponing it to comply with a court order.

Illustration; Source: BOEM

Following BOEM’s final notice to hold Lease Sale 261 for acreage in the Gulf of Mexico in September 2023, the American Petroleum Institute (API) filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court Western District of Louisiana, seeking immediate action from the court ahead of the planned lease sale as more than 6 million acres were removed from it.

While responding to the injunction request from the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Shell, and Louisiana, the court found that the Interior Department had not provided adequate notice of the provisions for additional protections for the Rice’s whale. In addition, the district court found that Interior had failed to justify the need for these measures.

After the court’s order from September 21, 2023, the United States decided to seek an emergency stay of the order to allow time for a more orderly lease sale process. In the case such relief was not granted, Lease Sale 261 was expected to be conducted on September 27, 2023.

A few days later, BOEM disclosed that Lease Sale 261 would not be held on September 27, 2023, as originally planned, thanks to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s ruling on September 25, 2023. However, a new date for the sale was not revealed at the time.

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In an update on October 5, 2023, BOEM unveiled plans to conduct the lease sale on November 8, 2023. In response to a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management intends to publish its updated final notice of sale (FNOS) for Gulf of Mexico oil and gas Lease Sale 261 in the Federal Register on Friday, October 6, 2023.

Furthermore, Lease Sale 261 will offer approximately 13,618 blocks on 72.7 million acres on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf in the western, central, and eastern planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The court also directed BOEM to include lease blocks that were previously excluded due to potential impacts to the Rice’s whale population from oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico and to remove portions of a related stipulation meant to address those potential impacts from the lease terms for any leases that may result from Lease Sale 261. 

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While green policies gain prominence, the future of the global oil and gas industry seems to be increasingly enveloped in a veil of uncertainty, despite many reports indicating the industry’s place in the energy mix is reserved for years to come. This was brought home further by the proposed final program for 2024-2029 offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, as the plan comes with the lowest number of offshore oil and gas lease sales in U.S. history.

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, commented: “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to building a clean energy future that ensures America’s energy independence. The proposed final program, which represents the smallest number of oil and gas lease sales in history, sets a course for the Department to support the growing offshore wind industry and protect against the potential for environmental damage and adverse impacts to coastal communities.” 

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With a maximum of three potential oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the controversial new program came under heavy fire not only from Big Oil and the fossil fuels lobby for prioritizing offshore wind leasing over oil and gas but also from climate action campaigners for including any oil and gas lease sales.