When Joe Biden became President-Elect, a glimpse of hope was felt by climate activists around the world that their voices would be finally heard and that the new President would lead the change that we all need to save our planet.
His plan to tackle climate change was described as “the most ambitious of any mainstream US presidential candidate yet”.
In the first half of his Presidency, those hopes seemed to materialise, especially with the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden hailed as the “biggest step forward on climate ever”.
Yet, the past few weeks have marked a U-Turn in Biden’s fight against climate change, starting with the President’s controversial and unpopular approval of the Willow Project in Alaska and, now, with an auction for a new oil lease in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Wednesday, March 29, an auction took place to sell an Italy-sized chunk of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction.
Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Shell, companies that made record profits last year due to the high prices for gasoline and other fuels, led the way with dozens of bids amounting to $263 million for a combined 313 blocks of water.
Following the war in Ukraine, cutting off Russia through sanctions has been costly for Europe and the US. Finding energy elsewhere has been at the core of countless policies, including a return to heavier reliance on coal in some countries. The White House has sped up the construction of oil and gas export terminals in the US, bound for their European allies.
Yet, despite the increased demand for energy, the uncertain economic environment caused by the War in Ukraine and the threat of recession has deterred companies from bidding on the lease.
Of the 73 Million acres available, interest was expressed for a total of only 1.6 Million acres. That’s only 2.2% of the total area that was up for lease.
Although this was just a fraction of the area offered, over 32 companies participated in the auction, marking the highest-grossing US government oil and gas lease sale since March 2015.
Related Articles: #StopWillow: Can the TikTok Campaign Stop the New Alaskan Oil Project? | Could US Oil Companies Be Tried for ‘Climate Homicide’? | Energy Injustice: As Fossil Fuel Profits Double, Exxon Sues EU While BP Cuts Climate Targets
The last auction for drilling in the same region took place in 2021, generating over $190 million in bids, but was later cancelled by a federal judge, alleging that the Administration did not correctly estimate the environmental cost of such a project.
Biden’s IRA turned out to be a double-edged sword: despite its aim and successes in combatting climate change, it has also allowed the reinstatement of leases for oil and gas drilling.
Although the auction for the lease was expected, the project size was shocking, far exceeding expectations.
The sale, known as lease 259, offers over 73 Million acres of water, potentially extracting more than 1bn barrels of oil and 4.4tn cubic feet of gas over the next 50 years.
George Torgun, an attorney at Earthjustice, spoke out against the project:
“There was no legal reason to offer almost the entire Gulf of Mexico to the oil and gas industry. If it goes forward as planned, it’s double the size of Willow. It’s going to lock in fossil fuel development in the Gulf for the next 50 years.”
Opposition to the lease
George Torgun cites multiple negative consequences deriving from the lease. Amongst them are climate impacts, burdens endured by citizens primarily of colour living beside polluting refineries along the coast, and the threat to Rice whales, an endangered species endemic to the north of the Gulf of Mexico.
Rice's whales, or Gulf of Mexico whales, are critically endangered, with fewer than 100 individuals. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill decreased their population by 22%. The endangered species act REQUIRES the protection of the species and its critical habitat. #WhaleWednesday pic.twitter.com/AYlUHkgNW6
— Wet Tribe (@WetTribe) March 29, 2023
He is an attorney for the coalition of green groups that are already set up a lawsuit to stop the lease, arguing that leasing Gulf waters will endanger the ecosystem, particularly turtles and Rice whales – the latter reportedly down to 50 individuals, effectively close to extinction -, as well as threaten the climate and nearby communities.
Earthjustice has successfully stopped the previous lease from being implemented on the grounds of miscaluclated environmental costs. They are hoping to achieve a similar ruling in their new lawsuits.
2 weeks ago, @POTUS approved the Willow oil project.
1 week ago, the IPCC released its 6th assessment report, warning that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in 1/2 by 2030.
So why, TODAY, is @POTUS auctioning off 73 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling?🧵 pic.twitter.com/tyLqT7oOh5
— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) March 29, 2023
To protect the lease from such a lawsuit, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) assured that they had taken potential impacts on marine, coastal, and human environments into account.
The BOEM has issued a statement that “leases resulting from this sale will include stipulations to mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species and to avoid potential conflicts with other ocean uses in the region.”
The lease was a concession to Joe Manchin, a Democratic West Virginia Senator who notoriously opposed the IRA and was blocking its implementation – just as he has sought to block every environmental measure that he feels might threaten his electorate and his own interests. This comes as no surprise since he helped found and later became the president of Enersystems, a coal brokerage company his family owns and operates.
Fighting climate change cannot be influenced by politics.
According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, 3 billion people worldwide are already suffering from severe climate impacts. Scaling down temperature rises seems unachievable if political interests are prioritised over the existential interests of humanity. The IPCC urged governments to act now, as we are “way off course” of our targets.
Alex Ruane, a NASA climate scientist and lead IPCC author, has voiced his concerns over the recent course of action:
“Even since the last IPCC report in 2021 we have put a substantial chunk of the carbon budget into the atmosphere. Action and inaction are both choices and at present we are getting closer every day to those temperature targets.”
Although Biden advocates for the progressive measures the IRA has taken towards combatting climate change, the recent developments will be counterproductive in the long term and hurt his reputation in the short term
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The Gulf of Mexico Featured Photo Credit: United States Geological Survey