U.S. green groups challenge offshore oil lease sale

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. environmental groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s first offshore lease sale since last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying the department has done too little to prevent another disaster.

The department has received bids to develop more than a million acres offered in the western Gulf lease sale on Wednesday, but the groups said the offshore regulator has yet to apply lessons from the nation’s largest offshore oil spill.

“The administration has buried its head in the sand, ignoring the devastating impacts of the BP spill, and acting as if nothing ever happened,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana, one group challenging the sale.

The sale covers more than 21 million acres (8.5 million hectares) in the Gulf of Mexico that are currently not leased.

According to the lawsuit, the department has not incorporated a new understanding of risks posed by offshore drilling and continues to rely on assumptions that failed in the case of Gulf spill.

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and ruptured BP’s underwater Macondo well, spewing millions of barrels of oil and ravaging the Gulf last year.

In the aftermath of the spill, the Obama administration overhauled Interior’s offshore drilling agency and instituted a raft of new regulations aimed at tightening oversight of offshore drilling.

The department said Wednesday’s sale could lead to the production of about 222 to 423 million barrels of oil and 1.49 to 2.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The department said it had no comment on the lawsuit.

Editing by Dale Hudson