Feds to auction up to 40 million acres in Gulf of Mexico for drilling

The Obama administration will look to lease up to 40 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for new offshore oil and gas drilling next year, officials announced Friday. 

The space, off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, will be sold at an auction in New Orleans next March, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said Friday. 

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The agency said the areas up for action could produce up to 965 million barrels of oil and more than 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“As one of the most productive basins in the world, the Gulf of Mexico is a cornerstone of our domestic energy portfolio, offering vital oil and gas resources that further economic growth and continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” BOEM Director Abigail Hopper said in a statement. 

“This lease sale is another important step in promoting responsible domestic energy production through the safe, environmentally sound development of the Nation’s offshore energy resources, while ensuring a fair return to the American people.”

The lease sales will be the ninth and tenth under the Obama administration’s most recent oil and gas leasing program, BOEM said. The first eight auctions brought in almost $3 billion in sales, according to the agency. 

Even so, the most recent lease sale was one of the least productive in years. In August, five companies spent only $22.7 million on drilling leases, the New York Times reported then, making it the smallest lease sale since 1986. 

Energy analysts blamed the low turnout on declining crude oil prices, which are expected to remain low through next year.