Manchin calls for Gulf of Mexico oil drilling auction after court ruling

Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg October 27, 2023

(Bloomberg) – Senator Joe Manchin called on the Biden administration to swiftly auction drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico, following a federal appeals court ruling Thursday that casts doubt on the future of that oil lease sale.

“Shrinking or further delaying Lease Sale 261 threatens both our energy security and climate goals and could make us more dependent on dirty foreign oil and gas,” Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said following the ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana.

At issue is an offshore oil lease sale set to be the last of its kind until 2025. Manchin successfully led the drive for legal mandates compelling that auction as part of last year’s sweeping climate law, and the Interior Department made plans to conduct it last month. But the agency trimmed some 6 million acres from the auction and imposed vessel traffic limitations in the area — moves that were challenged by the oil industry in federal court.

A Louisiana-based district court issued an injunction, tossing out the changes, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans added a requirement to hold the sale by Nov. 8. On Thursday, that same appeals court issued an order indefinitely staying the injunction.

The ruling by the Fifth Circuit is a blow to the oil industry, including the American Petroleum Institute as well as units of Chevron Corp. and Shell Plc, which had pushed for the larger auction.

It’s unclear what will happen next. Manchin is pressing the Interior Department to hold the sale — with the expanded acreage and without the challenged vessel limitations. A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said the agency was “reviewing the decision.”

Manchin blamed the Interior Department for stirring confusion over the sale, despite the climate law’s mandate to hold the auction by Sept. 30.

“This administration has made a complete mess of Lease Sale 261,” he said in an emailed statement. “The Department of the Interior was so eager to capitulate to demands from environmental groups that it bypassed important legal requirements, leading to litigation which had already delayed this sale until Nov. 8.”

API senior vice president Ryan Meyers argued the earlier injunction “that halted the Biden administration’s unlawful restrictions on the continued access and development of reliable, lower-carbon energy in the Gulf of Mexico was fully justified.” The group will keep pressing “to provide greater certainty for American energy workers, the Gulf Coast economy and a stronger future for US energy security,” he said.

The Fifth Circuit is set to consider the merits of the issue, with oral arguments in the case scheduled Nov. 13.

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