Five conservation groups on Monday filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Interior's plans to hold a Central Gulf of Mexico (GOM) lease sale in New Orleans on Wednesday, claiming the Obama administration has failed to address the risks to wildlife and the environment following the Macondo deepwater well blowout two years ago.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that Interior's Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) failed to heed the lessons from the April 2010 Macondo blowout and Deepwater Horizon explosion and did not obtain "essential" information about the status of species and resources that are "still suffering" from the huge oil spill.

"BOEM is continuing the same irresponsible approach that led to the oil spill and harm still being felt in the Gulf today," said Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. "Before selling new leases at 'ground zero' for the Gulf oil spill, the government ignored critical information about the spill's impacts that may have changed how it proceeded and better protected life," said Wannamaker.

The SELC, which filed the complaint on behalf of Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, challenges BOEM's decision to accept bids from producers for new leases in the GOM as part of Lease Sale 216/222.

The Central GOM lease sale, scheduled to be conducted in New Orleans on Wednesday, would make nearly 38 million acres available and is to include all available unleased areas in the Central Planning Area off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama (see Daily GPI, Jan. 27). The lease sale originally was set for 2011 but was put on hold following the Macondo blowout, after which BOEM called for a supplemental environmental impact statement.

The lease sale includes close to 7,250 unleased blocks that are three to 230 miles offshore in water depths that are nine to more than 11,115 feet deep. BOEM estimates that close to 31 billion bbl of oil and 134 Tcf of gas is undiscovered and technically recoverable in the GOM. In the Central GOM, an estimated 1 bbl of oil and 4 Tcf of gas is estimated to be technically recoverable, according to federal officials.

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