Plan to hold offshore oil/gas lease sales over internet draws protests

By Jodi Delapaz

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2016 - The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) plans to conduct its upcoming sale of oil and gas leases off the Texas coast for the first time over the internet, saying the process will be more efficient and the sales more transparent than in the past.

But Gulf Coast community groups and environmental organizations who oppose the lease sales don't see it that that way. They say the move to the internet is designed to limit public pressure that's been mounting against leases in the Gulf of Mexico and around the nation and they vow to continue demonstrations against the auctions.

“The administration can't silence the movement to protect the Gulf and our climate. This new plan was clearly designed to stifle public opposition and it shows they're worried about the growing resistance to new offshore leases,” says Cherri Foytlin of Bridge the Gulf. “The Obama administration needs to take a strong stance on climate change and end all new offshore leases in the Gulf and waters off Alaska, rather than trying to hide from public scrutiny.”

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The Western Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 248, to be held Aug. 24 at the Superdome in New Orleans, will offer 23.8 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development, including all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area.

The bid opening will not be open to the public. Instead, it will be available for the public to view in real-time on BOEM's website via video live-streaming beginning at 9 a.m. local time on the day of the sale. BOEM says this will enable the availability of pertinent bid information immediately to a “much broader national and international audience.”

“Making government data immediately available is a valuable resource for taxpayers, both in terms of dollars and cents but also in efficiency,” says BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “Through the use of technology we can deliver our lease sale information in a much more effective and accessible way to a much wider audience.”

BOEM says the decision to hold the sale follows “extensive environmental analysis, public comment and consideration of the best scientific information available” and notes that the terms of the sale include stipulations to protect “biologically sensitive resources and mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species.”

As a result of offering this area for lease, BOEM estimates 116 to 200 million barrels of oil and 538 to 938 billion cubic feet of natural gas will be discovered and produced.

But Gulf Coast and national environmental groups are criticizing the sale, saying burning those fossil fuels would send more than 137 million metric tons of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, roughly the same as operating 40 coal-fired power plants for a year.

The groups were actively organizing around the upcoming sale when BOEM announced the plan to air the bid openings via the internet.

“If they think that this action is going to quiet us, they're wrong. Their action has only made us stronger and more united than ever before,” says Mary Gutierrez, executive director of Earth Ethics Inc. “We will not be silenced. Our voices will be heard. No new leases!”

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Blake Kopcho, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity who has been working with Gulf groups, said the plan is “an insult to everyone concerned about climate change and the frontline communities that are most heavily impacted by it.”

Rainforest Action Network senior campaigner Ruth Breech weighed in, commenting that President Obama “is subverting the democratic process even further with this move.”  

Anthony Rogers-Wright, policy director with Environmental Action, feels that the move to conduct the sale on the internet is a reaction to the groups' mobilization.

“There is actually a silver lining to this travesty and omission of transparency, and that is our movement, our coalition …. is cutting through,” Rogers-Wright says. “The fossil fuel empire has always been surreptitious and back-handed. We can now add ‘craven' to the list of characterizations for these climate killers. The Gulf South will not be silenced, and the resistance will not be intimidated.”

To view the Notice of Availability of the Final Notice of Sale, click here.

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