Impacts of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

How bad are upcoming oil leases for the Gulf of Mexico?


Offshore oil rig | Public Domain
Maryann Martinez Okhuysen

Oceans Intern


  • The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) requires 3 oil lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico in order for any offshore wind lease sales to move forward. 
  • This could open a window for the Department of the Interior to host 8 additional oil lease sales if industry interest is shown. 
  • The first of the required lease sales has already been conducted. It proved to have high interest from the oil industry and will increase oil production and carbon sequestration in the Gulf of Mexico. 
  • Carbon sequestration will kill many species close to the sequestration zones and could impact Texas’ coastal communities. 


The passing of the IRA allows for sweeping action to be taken to reduce climate change, as it is estimated that it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels when paired with other in-place legislation. However, necessary negotiations to get enough votes to pass the Act resulted in offshore oil lease sales being a requirement -to be complied with by the Department of the Interior- in order for auctions of offshore wind lease sales to move forward. 

Two of these auctions are expected to be reinstated in the Gulf of Mexico, after being canceled earlier this year.  The Biden Administration could still prevent the Department of the Interior from reopening these auctions but so far no clear interest in doing so has been stated by the Administration. This is likely due to the Administration’s plan to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes for a year and while avoiding 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Earlier this September, the Administration also announced its actionable plans to deploy 15 GW worth of floating offshore wind capacity, further cementing the sale of the offshore oil leases as a likely necessity. The hope may be that the accumulated benefits of increasing offshore wind power could counteract the damages of offshore oil lease sales. 

While the Biden Administration has passed legislation to prevent the increase of oil leasing and drilling in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico is at risk of having 10 remaining auction leases take place leaving the Texas Coast almost entirely open to sales, as shown in white spaces on the below map.

Bureau of Ocean Management | Public Domain

However, it seems likely that the areas closest to the coastline will be used for an alternative purpose. Experts and researchers predict these leases will be used for carbon sequestration. While the phrase sounds like a reduction in harmful effects on the environment, carbon sequestration entails many risks. 

For instance, the sustained high concentration of CO2 in the marine environment will kill many organisms. Ruptures in CO2 pipelines would kill entire marine ecosystems which could also be felt by communities along the Texas Coast. During carbon sequestration procedures, oil companies have also been known to perform, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) procedures, the most aggressive form of oil drilling. One of the three commonly used forms of EOR procedures is miscible gas injections. Through this process, CO2 can be pumped into the earth (as a form of sequestering carbon) to extract hard-to-reach oil in a given area. 

With negative ramifications being likely, regardless of the chosen purpose for each lease sale, one must consider whether chiefly unrestricted lease sales in the Gulf coast are an appropriate compromise to increase offshore wind leasing. 



Maryann Martinez Okhuysen

Oceans Intern

Maryann Martinez Okhuysen is a government and sustainability student at the University of Texas at Austin and our Oceans Intern.

Find Out More
staff | TPIN

Our wild planet is calling on you this Earth Day

From buzzing bees to howling wolves, and from ancient forests to sprawling coastlines, our natural world is a gift that keeps on giving. Will you donate today to help keep it that way?