The Biden administration has come to a resolution with a coalition of environmental organizations that advocate for increased wildlife conservation in relation to offshore oil development in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has agreed to a number of conditions proposed by the coalition, which includes establishing larger protected areas for the Rice’s whale species and excluding roughly 11 million acres of oil-rich resources from future lease sales. Furthermore, the administration will impose stricter regulations on oil and gas vessels, mandating them to operate at reduced speeds.
The decision has garnered criticism from industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Ocean Industries Association, as they argue that it will severely hinder the nation’s energy production capabilities in an area that contributes to the lowest carbon-intensive barrels globally. These industry groups maintain that there is no evidence supporting such a widespread ban on operations, and that this agreement undermines genuine conservation and efforts to protect habitats.
The settlement ensued from a lawsuit initiated by the coalition of environmental groups, who sued the NMFS in October 2020, alleging that the agency had failed to adequately assess the impact of the oil industry on endangered and at-risk marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. The coalition is composed of organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.
This agreement marks another move by the Biden administration to restrict oil and gas leasing activities since assuming office, and it has the potential to impact future lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico by rendering them economically unfeasible. However, the government asserts that it had no reason to believe that oil and gas operations in the newly expanded protected areas would be detrimental to whales.
The settlement agreement, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on Friday, temporarily suspends the litigation while the agreed-upon conditions are in effect.