The federal oil and gas auction held last month for tracts in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is being challenged by activist groups that are seeking “any and all communications” regarding the sale since President Biden took office in January.

GOM lease map

Lease Sale 257, the eighth offshore auction and first in a year, was overseen last month by the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). 

Environmental groups, which had sought to prevent the auction, have called the lease sale a betrayal by the Biden administration. They are seeking to nullify the results and require Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to reject the bids. 

Food & Water Watch (FWW) and the Action Center on Race and the Economy, along with youth advocacy groups Earth Uprising and One Up Action, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking “any and all communications related to the lease sale.” Records are requested for communications between White House staff, DOI officials, members and staff of Congress, and the oil and gas industry.

“The release of the requested records will provide significant understanding to the American people as to how DOI reached its decision to re-commence oil and gas leasing, and specifically to move forward with Lease Sale 257, despite clear issues with the fossil fuel leasing program and its own assertions of clear statutory authority to deny lease sales,” the FOIA request stated.

“Moreover, these requested records would significantly contribute to the public understanding of this decision as the federal government has consistently represented in litigation that they possess multiple means of employing legislatively delegated authority to deny leasing of public lands and waters outside of issuing an Executive Order.”

After taking office, President Biden had ordered a review of the federal leasing program. DOI subsequently suspended lease sales in the GOM, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Lower 48.  A U.S. district court in Louisiana blocked the moratorium, and in turn, Interior agreed to hold the GOM lease sale.

The Biden administration followed up in late November with an 18-page report noting that federal oil and gas royalty rates could be hiked and leasing terms may be tightened.

Meanwhile, a pending lawsuit filed in August was scheduled to be heard on Thursday (Dec. 16) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit argues that Lease Sale 257 was illegal because it violated at least two federal laws, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.