A substantial portion of the Gulf of Mexico, the size of Italy, has been put up for auction by its owners for oil and gas drilling in what is apparently a major blow to US President Joe Bidens initiatives on Climate Change control.
The US Department of the Interior has offered the huge chunk of the central and western Gulf, including deep water areas for drilling projects likely to stretch for decades long, much against scientists' warnings that fossil fuels be to putting an immediate halt to disastrous global warming that has melted icebergs and the unusual weather patterns have resulted in floods in several countries such as Pakistan recently.
The auctions defy Biden's own pre-election promise to halt all drilling on federal lands and waters.
Some 313 tracts of ocean, spanning 1.6m acres, have already had very high bids during the auction, the US dept. of Interior announced.
By Wednesday afternoon, the Department had received bids from 32 fossil fuel companies collectively valued over $309.7 million for drilling rights.
However, the amount offered by the federal government outmatched the bids received from the companies.
The bids will be evaluated by the government in the coming months before any lease can be issued, reports said.
About, 73.3m acres (30m hectares), an area roughly the size of Italy, was made available to drilling companies, less than a month before the 13th anniversary of the Deep-water Horizon oil spill disaster.
The sale, known as lease 259, had the potential to extract more than 1 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next 50 years, according to the administration.
In a report, the Guardian said the auctions come just two weeks after the administration cleared the Willow project, a drilling initiative in the remote tundra of Alaska's arctic, expected to evacuate over 600 million barrels of oil over its lifetime. Both the actions have caused major alarm among those in favour of a liveable climate, including the President's usual allies.
"For the first half of his presidency, Joe Biden led on climate with transformative vision but in the second half he seems to be signalling a disastrous climate U-turn," the newspaper quoted Ben Jealous, Executive Director of the Sierra Club and a prominent progressive, as saying.
When Biden signed off on the Inflation Reduction ACT, the legislation included a huge allocation of nearly $750 billion for climate change and green initiatives ranging from concessions on buying electric cars and reduction of fossil fuels and promoting of environment friendly technologies.
Claimed as a sweeping legislation, it puts billions of dollars in support for renewable energy projects and electric car subsidies.
But it also included stipulations that large areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska be made available for fossil fuel drilling.
However, climate control campaigners compromised on the trade-off to be worthwhile as the resulting emissions cuts should still be large, but the new glut of drilling could wipe out much of the benefits of wind and solar projects over the next decade, media reports said.
Meanwhile, the White House feels there are complicating factors to its climate agenda, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, resulting in hastening construction of oil and gas export terminals in the US, to fulfil commitments to its European allies as also a divided Congress with a republican majority and various legal obstacles.
Biden said last week that he was inclined to block the Willow project, but his lawyers feel he would be rebuffed by ConocoPhillips, the owner of the project lease, as it would likely sue and win to secure it.
"My strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board but the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, I may very well lose," he said.
While the administration indicated the terms of the Inflation Reduction Act also compel the Gulf of Mexico sales, opponents argue that there was no urgent need to put up such a large swathe of oil bearing area or sale.