Winning Gulf lease sale bids total $156 million, 4th lowest since 1983

NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 28: A boat works to collect oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico on April 28, 2010 near New Orleans, Louisiana. An estimated leak of 1,000 barrels of oil a day are still leaking into the gulf. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
A boat works to collect oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico on April 28, 2010 near New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A crowd of protesters inside New Orleans’ Superdome Wednesday attempted to disrupt a federal auction of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Amidst chants of “shut it down,” a large crowd made their way inside the football arena. Over social media streamed photos of protesters heckling attendees and descriptions of the drowning out of government staff trying to read out the results of the auction.

“Hundreds of people have entered the auction,” Laurel Sutherlin, a stratgeist with Rainforest Action Network, said in a phone interview from inside the Superdome. “I have to step away. The chanting is making it difficult to hear.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was auctioning off 45 million acres of offshore leases in the Gulf.

With oil prices trading around $40 a barrel, there was uncertainty around how much interest the auction would garner.

“Continued low commodity prices, increased Federal regulation, and the Administration’s clear lack of support for domestic fossil fuel production – could result in rather small sales tomorrow, continuing the downward trend witnessed over the past few years,” Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, wrote Tuesday. 

That proved out Wednesday. Following the auction, the government said it had received 148 bids, with 30 companies participating.

Winning bids totaled $156.4 million, the fourth lowest total in the Gulf’s Central District since 1983, said Mike Celata, BOEM Gulf of Mexico Regional Director.

“I think the industry is proceeding cautiously,” said Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “When market conditions improve I think we’re going to see robust participation by the industry.”

The protests Wednesday added momentum to a growing effort among environmentalists to stop new oil and gas drilling – a movement known as “Keep it in the Ground.”

Yudith Nieto, a 27-year-old organizer with Texas Environmental Justice Services, said she had traveled from Houston with a group of close to 20 to protest what she believes is an unsafe and unsustainable industry.

“Our communities already face a lot of issues with storms and flooding and we saw what happened with the BP oil spill,” she said in a phone interview. “If we keep doing this business as usual, there’s not going to be anything for us to live off.”

Despite the protesters’s efforts, the auction went off as scheduled, Washington said.

“We started relatively on time and had good communication with them throughout the process,” she said.