Environmental groups have filed a complaint in federal court in Washington, DC, challenging a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) that clears the way for the first oil and natural gas lease sale since the Macondo well blowout to be held in the western Gulf of Mexico (GOM).

The Southern Environmental Law Center brought the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It asks that the SEIS be vacated. “We think it doesn’t comply with the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which will represent the groups in court.

Specifically the environmental groups contend that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has ignored the impact of BP plc’s 200 million-gallon oil spill in its assessment of the risks and precautions for the GOM before conducting the first auction of oil and gas leases (Lease Sale 218) since the Deepwater Horizon disaster (see Daily GPI, April 26, 2010).

Lease Sale 218 is scheduled to be held at the Louisiana Superdome in downtown New Orleans on Wednesday and will include all of the available unleased areas in the Western Gulf Planning Area (WGPA), which lies off the coast of Texas.

According to the BOEM, Lease Sale 218 will encompass 3,913 unleased blocks covering more than 21 million acres, and will be the last WGPA sale for the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Natural Gas Leasing Program. The blocks are located from nine to about 250 miles offshore, with water depths ranging from 16 to more than 10,975 feet (five to 3,346 meters). The BOEM estimates that the lease sale could result in the production of 222 to 423 million bbl of oil and 1.49 to 2.65 Tcf of natural gas.

In moving forward with this lease sale, “the federal government is failing to learn from one of the most environmentally and economically destructive incidents in U.S. history,” said David Pettit, senior attorney with NRDC.

“BOEM is continuing the same irresponsible approach that led to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and harm still being felt in the Gulf,” Wannamaker said.

“Failing to fully analyze the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and the potential of future spills before moving forward with drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is asking for another drilling catastrophe,” agreed Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The administration has buried its head in the sand, ignoring the devastating impact of the BP spill, and acting as if nothing ever happened. But the spill’s impacts on endangered and commercially important species must be considered,” noted Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana.

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