WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is moving ahead with an oil lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico next month despite legal questions about whether the proposal and other offshore drilling plans initially drawn up under President George W. Bush went through a full environmental review.
The decision comes four months after the Court of Appeals in Washington blocked lease sales in Alaska, saying the Bush administration did not properly study the environmental consequences. The Alaska drilling was part of a five-year plan to expand drilling around the country, including in the Gulf. The court did not say whether its ruling also applied to Gulf drilling, but many experts watching the case said they believed the decision could cover the entire program, not just the Alaska portion.
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the agency has sought clarification from the courts. But after not getting further guidance, Secretary Ken Salazar decided to move ahead, Barkoff said.
"We're planning as if it doesn't affect the Gulf, but if the court provides direction otherwise, we will follow it," she said.
The sale would pave the way for drilling in some 18 million acres in the western Gulf near Texas. The area comes as close as nine miles from shore in some parts and stretches as far as 250 miles out.