Biden Admin Set to Auction Off Over 80 Million Acres to Oil and Gas Drilling Companies

The Biden administration is preparing to sell off more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling companies in the largest federal offshore drilling auction in U.S. history—less than a week after the UN climate change conference COP26, where nearly 200 nations promised to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The annual Gulf of Mexico lease sale is planned for November 17 in New Orleans.

The 80 million acres on sale is expected to produce around 1.12 billion barrels of oil and 4.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years.

The controversial auction will take place only months after Hurricane Ida ravaged old fossil fuel infrastructure on the coast of Louisiana, leaving dozens of oil spills and petrochemical leaks in its wake.

Unsurprisingly, the move has drawn the ire of climate campaigners.

More than 250 environmental, indigenous and social justice groups sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and other officials in his administration on Wednesday with an "urgent plea" to cancel the lease sale, which they said "makes a mockery" of the climate commitments made at COP26 to avoid a disastrous increase in global heating of over 1.5 °C more than pre-industrial levels.

"The Gulf of Mexico continues to be treated as a sacrificial zone to oil and gas development, disproportionately harming local communities already at the frontline of climate disaster, wreaking havoc on the environment, and contributing to global climate change," the letter read.

"The region's communities are frontline Black, Indigenous and people of color and low-income families who have been living with degraded air, land, and water for decades."

"There is still time to keep your promise to end new leases on public lands and waters and address environmental racism. Please utilize your existing authority and defer Lease Sale 257 to reckon with the latest evidence and properly estimate and acknowledge the full range of impacts from lease sales in this region."

"It's hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit," Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity told ABC News.

"Holding this lease sale will only lead to more harmful oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment on the auction.

As recently as October 1, a damaged underwater pipeline off the Californian coast spilled an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil across the ocean and on beaches.

The winning bidder on November 17 will be able to build up to 231 miles of platform rights and drill for oil at underwater depths of up to 11,000 feet.

But climate groups say the large distance from shore and depth of drilling makes a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill more likely. That disaster caused four million barrels of oil to leak into the Gulf.

President Joe Biden ran a presidential campaign on the promise to ban new oil and gas leases on public lands and in oceans.

In January, hours after he was inaugurated, Biden issued an executive order that stopped new federal leases while the government conducts an environmental review—but the review hasn't yet materialized.

The moratorium was not expected to have a huge impact on gas drilling companies, many of which have secured leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters for years to come.

On November 1, Biden urged nations to "seize the moment" to act on climate change at the COP26 leaders summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Joe Biden in DC with other officials
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House November 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The Biden administration is preparing to sell off more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling companies in the largest federal offshore drilling auction in U.S. history. Drew Angerer/Getty