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US court cancels largest offshore oil and gas lease sale, dubbed ‘climate bomb’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Joe Biden administration had failed to evaluate the climate change impact of drilling over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. (Getty Images)

A US court on Thursday annulled the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the country’s history, slamming the government for miscalculating its massive climate impact and risks.

The US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Joe Biden administration had failed to evaluate the climate change impact of drilling over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

The court ordered the Interior Department to carry out a new environmental study on greenhouse gas emission to result from the eventual development and production of the leases, according to reports.

The agency will then be required to take a call on whether or not to hold a new auction.

The verdict represents a major win for environmental groups that had vehemently opposed the controversial sale, calling it a "huge climate bomb."

Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental groups that challenged the sale, hailed the ruling as "huge."

"This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate change costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that's really significant," Hardy was quoted as saying by New York Times.

"Once these leases are issued, there's development that's potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate."

In his presidential campaign, Joe Biden had vowed to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters, but he has been criticized for walking back on his promises.

The lawsuit against the leases alleged that the Interior Department relied on outdated environmental analysis conducted by the former US administration that contended that more drilling in the Gulf would not spur greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental groups, dismissing the analysis, said it failed to take into account new information about the impact of offshore drilling on rising temperatures globally.

Scott Lauermann, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas companies, said in a statement that the group was reviewing the decision and considering its options.

"Offshore energy development plays a critical role in strengthening our nation's economy and energy security" Laurmann said.

Oil industry executives have also said they plan to appeal against the court's ruling.

"At a time of geopolitical uncertainty and rapidly rising energy prices, U.S. oil geopolitical uncertainty and rapidly rising energy prices, U.S. oil and gas production is more important than ever to curb inflation and to fortify our national security," Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore energy companies.

The fight is not over," said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth. "We will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for making unlawful decisions that contradict its pledge to take swift, urgent action on 'code red' climate and environmental justice priorities."

Emissions from burning and extracting fossil fuels from public land and water account for about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, according to the US Geological Survey.

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