Six environmental groups on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to end the "routine fast-tracking" of offshore oil and gas projects in the Gulf of Mexico, which they claim undermines environmental protections and safety.
Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and others submitted a petition to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management asking it to eliminate so-called "categorical exclusions" for offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration plans in the Gulf of Mexico.
The groups said the exclusions allow projects to avoid thorough environmental reviews for individual drilling projects, including public comment periods, required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Gulf of Mexico's "currently degraded state" is in part due to the exclusions and fast-tracked oil and gas infrastructure projects that threaten to further exacerbate the climate crisis, the groups said.
BOEM, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the petition.
Categorical exclusions are issued for federal projects that aren’t expected to individually or cumulatively impact the environment, according to a BOEM fact sheet. They have been issued for projects since the 1980s, and aim to reduce “unnecessary paperwork and delays,” according to the agency.
The groups said the agency has used the exclusions to bypass more thorough environmental reviews of roughly 90% of individual offshore drilling plans in the past five years, and to bypass those reviews for nearly a quarter of individual oil and gas well exploration proposals.
“Regardless of whether BOEM considers a single drilling operation to be significantly disruptive, the overarching significance is apparent in the larger context of oil and gas development,” the petitioners said.
(Reuters - Reporting by Clark Mindock)