WASHINGTON - June 11 - The Minerals Management Service (MMS) continues to approve new leases after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that give British Petroleum and other companies the right to drill even more deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico under the same inadequate oversight that led to the current oil spill, according to a new legal challenge filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife. The groups say current policies create an incentive to allow drilling even in the face of evident risks because once a lease is issued by MMS, the U.S. government is obligated to pay the lessee either the fair market value of the lease or the amount spent to obtain the bid plus costs and interest if the government cancels the lease or refuses to allow drilling. MMS approved new leases for deepwater tracts as recently as June 10 under the same lax oversight complicit in the current Gulf spill.
“MMS quietly granted oil companies the right to drill 198 more deepwater wells as if the spill wasn’t devastating the Gulf,” said Derb Carter, senior attorney and director, Carolinas Office, Southern Environmental Law Center. “If it’s too deep to stop a spill, it’s too deep to drill. BP is under criminal investigation for its explosion and dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, yet MMS approved 13 new leases for BP to drill in deepwater without any better oversight.”
The groups’ lawsuit challenges MMS approval of leases, including 198 deepwater leases, in the Central Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 and ongoing spill. In a legal claim added on June 10 to an ongoing lawsuit in federal court, the groups allege that MMS failed its legal responsibility after the explosion and spill to reconsider its 2008 conclusions that the sale of the deepwater leases and future oil drilling would have no potential significance.