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Groups sue US Interior Department over sale of offshore oil, gas leases in Gulf

Environmental groups filed a legal challenge to the Trump administration's plan to hold an oil and gas lease sale that could open more than 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf over the U.S. Department of the Interior's announced March 20 lease sale. The groups said the administration made the decision to go forward with the sale, which they described as the largest lease sale for oil and gas development in U.S. history, without fully analyzing the risks to people, wildlife and the environment.

"The Trump administration is barreling ahead with expanded oil and gas drilling in our oceans while simultaneously erasing critical protections that protect Gulf coasts and giving oil and gas companies a pass from complying with existing safety requirements," Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy said in a statement. "This is just a recipe for disaster."

The lawsuit, which names the Interior Department, its leaders and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as defendants, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 13.

The American Petroleum Institute does not comment on active litigation, but the group supported the lease sale. "America must pursue smart energy policy in order to continue as a global energy superpower," spokesman Reid Porter said in a March 13 statement.

According to a March 11 federal budget summary, the Trump administration will pursue an "aggressive strategy" for offshore oil and gas leasing as part of a draft program for 2019-2024.

In July 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it would offer 78 million acres offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for oil and gas exploration and development. The sale included 14,622 unleased blocks three to 231 miles offshore in the western, central and eastern Gulf in water depths ranging from nine feet to more than 11,115 feet.