(CN) – The Interior Department announced Friday that the sale of leases on 77.3 million acres off the Southeast coast for oil and gas exploration will occur on March 21.
The sale, which Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said is the largest in U.S. history, will consist of leases off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. It includes all currently unleased areas in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Responsibly developing our offshore energy resources is a major pillar of President Trump’s American Energy Dominance strategy,” Bernhardt said. “A strong offshore energy program supports tens of thousands good paying jobs and provides the affordable and reliable energy we need to heat homes, fuel our cars, and power our economy.”
Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that is heavily involved in environmental issues asked “How stupid can we be?” when she learned of the scheduled lease sale.
“The Gulf Coast is consistently nailed by hurricanes and yet our government insists on an energy strategy that exacerbates these hurricanes,” she said.
“A real energy strategy would be one that pursues renewables full speed ahead. Their so-called energy strategy is really a scheme for corrupt politicians to enrich themselves and their cronies,” Rolfes added.
Raleigh Hoke, campaign director of the Gulf Restoration Network, also took a dim view of the Interior Department announcement.
“We are disappointed that this Administration is moving forward with yet another lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico while simultaneously rolling back key safety measures to protect workers and the environment,” Hoke said. “Oil spills and accidents are an everyday occurrence in the Gulf, and we’re still at risk of a major catastrophe like the 2010 BP drilling disaster. We need stronger safety requirements, not weaker, and an end to all new offshore leasing in the Gulf.”
“Trump’s auctioning off this massive amount of our ocean while at the same time proposing to rollback important environmental and safety requirements,” agreed Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It’s disgusting and nothing but a recipe for more devastating oil spills and other disasters. But we are still a nation of laws, and we’ll take to the courts, and the streets, to stop Trump’s reckless assault on our oceans,” Monsell said.
Lease Sale 250, scheduled to be live streamed from New Orleans, will be the second offshore sale under the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.
It will include about 14,776 unleased blocks, located from three to 231 miles offshore, in the Gulf’s Western, Central and Eastern planning areas in water depths ranging from nine to more than 11,115 feet.
Excluded from the lease sale are blocks subject to the Congressional moratorium established by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006; blocks that are adjacent to or beyond the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in the area known as the northern portion of the Eastern Gap; and whole blocks and partial blocks within the current boundary of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
The Interior Department said the lease sales terms include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, minimize potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region.
Pamela Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal advocacy organization, said “The administration is following the industry’s playbook with this ill-advised move, which is exactly what environmental advocates warned against when former lobbyists were placed in these positions.
“At the same time, we’re seeing attempts around the country to enact laws that shrink the space to voice opposition to environmentally hazardous projects,” Spees continued. “This lease sale is the exact opposite of sane and responsible energy policy. The Gulf of Mexico still has not fully recovered from the devastating BP spill in 2010 and it’s beyond clear that we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates the outer continental shelf contains about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered but technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered but technically recoverable gas.
The Gulf of Mexico, covering about 160 million acres, has technically recoverable resources of over 48 billion barrels of oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of gas, the agency said.