WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) issued the following statement on the long-awaited Lease Sale 261. At the direction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced today they will hold the oil and gas lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico on December 20, 2023, and include lease blocks that were previously and unlawfully excluded due to stipulations on the Rice’s whale.
“Slow-walking congressional mandates is not only a violation of the law, it harms our energy security and economy,” said Dr. Cassidy. “With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m thankful for the 5th Circuit’s decision to force the Biden administration to hold the long-awaited sale. It’s a win for the rule of law and sadly the end of an era with no offshore energy lease sales scheduled next year for the first time in more than 50 years.”
In July, the Biden administration entered into a closed-door de facto settlement agreement with the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network. As part of that agreement, the administration voluntarily removed six million acres in the Gulf of Mexico from offshore oil and gas leasing as well as imposed a 10-knot speed limit and restricted nighttime transit for certain oil and gas vessels, significantly disrupting companies’ ability to explore for and produce oil and gas under the basis of protecting the Rice’s whale. However, previous analysis performed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that Rice’s whales were not a reasonable justification for the restrictions. Both the restrictions were lifted and the acreage was re-added when the sale was announced earlier today.
In response, Cassidy led a group of colleagues in introducing the Warding Off Hostile Administrative Lease Efforts (WHALE) Act to prevent the U.S. Departments of Commerce and the Interior (DOI) from issuing maritime rules related to the Rice’s whale that would impede offshore energy development and military activities. He also filed an amicus brief asserting that the settlement agreement undermined the faithful execution of the laws since the lease sale was required by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Cassidy has repeatedly pushed the Biden administration to follow the law and schedule Lease Sale 261. Cassidy condemned the administration’s decision to delay the sale twice. The sale was originally scheduled for Sept. 27, 2023, and later scheduled for Nov. 8, 2023.
Last month, the Biden administration announced its long-awaited 2024-2029 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program as required by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It called for three over a five-year period, with no lease sales scheduled for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or offshore Alaska, and no lease sales held in 2024—marking the first year in over half a century with no lease sales. It also constitutes the smallest offshore energy program in U.S. history. Cassidy pre-empted the announcements and introduced the Offshore Energy Security Act of 2023 which requires DOI to hold four offshore oil and gas lease sales total, two in 2024 and two in 2025.