(Added comments from the Home Office and oil industry groups in paragraphs 6-8) by Nichola Groom and Clark Mindock
Sept 26 (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday gave the Biden administration until Nov. 8 to arrange an expanded sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, the latest development in a legal battle on federal protection of an endangered whale species.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Interior Department’s request to stay part of the order issued by a Louisiana federal judge that gave the government until the end of the month to hold an auction for 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares), more than it had planned to offer.
The Home Office told the appeal court that it disagreed with District Judge James Cain’s ruling, but was only asking the court to grant his office ocean energy management more time to organize the sale. The United States said the short deadline had caused “chaos” in an auction that had already begun by mail and needed to be significantly changed to comply with the order.
The Fifth Circuit did not block the trial judge’s broader ruling that environmental groups said was necessary to protect the endangered Rice’s whale from oil and gas development. .
Mr. Cain’s order, issued on September 22, was welcomed by the oil and gas industry, which filed a lawsuit in August () alongside the state of Louisiana following an earlier decision by the Ministry of the Interior aimed at reducing the auctions.
The Interior Ministry declined to comment on the decision.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said it was pleased that the court upheld the lower court’s decision to reinstate the acreage and remove the “binding stipulations,” but said it was disappointed by the deadline.
“It should not be necessary to obtain a court ruling or an act of Congress for Interior to fulfill its responsibility to meet the energy needs of the American people,” said Ryan Meyers, senior vice president of the API, in a press release.
Representatives for environmental advocacy groups and the Louisiana attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Democratic President Joe Biden initially paused federal drilling auctions shortly after taking office in 2021, as part of his agenda to combat climate change.
The Interior Department finalized plans for a scaled-down lease sale in August, after last year’s Inflation Reduction Act mandated the auction moving forward. The sale put approximately 67 million acres in the Gulf up for auction.
The changes stem from an August agreement between federal agencies and environmental groups that filed a lawsuit in 2020 alleging the government failed to provide adequate protections for the whales.
These groups had claimed that whales could be injured or killed by oil spills, ship strikes, noise, marine debris and other impacts of oil and gas exploration and exploitation.
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