Court dismisses effort to restrict Gulf drilling over endangered whale

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A federal appeals court has dismissed an effort from environmental groups to prevent an oil rights drilling auction from proceeding without protections for an endangered species of whale.

Instead, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Biden administration will have 37 days to carry out the auction for rights to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The litigation stems from action by the Biden administration that would have put stipulations on an upcoming oil and gas lease sale auction in the Gulf as part of an effort to protect the Rice’s Whale. 

The administration said in August that it would shrink the sale and restrict ship activity in order to protect the whale, of which there are believed to be fewer than 100 remaining.

Chevron, the state of Louisiana and an oil and gas lobbying group sued over that action, and a lower court ruled in their favor, saying that the Biden administration needed to move ahead with the sale in just a few days.

Both the Biden administration and environmental groups appealed the lower court’s move, with the Biden administration asking for more time while environmentalists wanted the restrictions that aimed to protect the whale.

The administration got more time, as it will now have 37 days to carry out the sale.

However, judges Edith Brown Clement, Catharina Haynes and Andrew Oldham, who are Bush and Trump appointees, dismissed the environmental groups’ challenge.

They found that the groups did not have standing in the case because they did not show that they will suffer “certainly impending” injury or that any such issues would likely be resolved by the court. 

In response, George Torgun, an attorney with Earthjustice, warned of dire consequences for the whale. 

“This disappointing and unjustified ruling could be the death knell for the nearly extinct Rice’s whale,” Torgun said in a written statement. 

“The oil industry fought tooth and nail to tear up basic measures to save one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. This could be the difference between doing the bare minimum to save this species, and allowing it to vanish,” he added. 

On the other hand, the oil and gas lobbying group, called the American Petroleum Institute, hailed the court ruling as a win. 

“The U.S. Gulf of Mexico plays a critical role in maintaining affordable, reliable American energy production, and today’s decision creates greater certainty for the essential energy workforce and the entire Gulf Coast economy,” said a written statement from Ryan Meyers, the group’s senior vice president and general counsel.

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