Feds to auction eastern Gulf drilling leases

WASHINGTON — For the first time in six years, oil and gas companies will have a chance to bid for new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico near Alabama and Florida, during a planned lease sale next March.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Tuesday that 465,200 acres would be available during that eastern Gulf of Mexico lease sale on March 19. The auction, which will take place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, is set to begin right after a separate sale of central Gulf of Mexico leases.

Bureau Director Tommy Beaudreau said the eastern Gulf auction “is another important step to promote responsible domestic energy production through the safe, environmentally sound exploration and development of the nation’s offshore energy resources.”

The last time eastern Gulf acreage was up for grabs was in March 2008. The area available in the March auction could result in production of 71 million barrels of oil and 162 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the ocean energy bureau.

Other areas near the Florida coast are still off limits — barred from oil and gas development under a statutory ban set to expire in 2022.

The government formally announced the sale in the Federal Register and outlined the terms and conditions governing the auction.

The March lease sales would represent the fourth and fifth auctions of offshore oil and gas leases in the Obama administration’s five-year program governing the activity from 2012 through mid-2017. All told, 15 lease sales are expected during that five-year span, including potential auctions of waters near Alaska in 2016 and 2017. Another eastern Gulf of Mexico auction is planned for 2016.

The last offshore auction, in August, drew $144.6 million in total bids for Gulf acreage.

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