Obama administration closes offshore drilling sale to public

Obama administration closes offshore drilling sale to public

The Obama administration is banning environmental activist protesters from an offshore drilling lease sale next month.

The auction, scheduled for Aug. 24 in New Orleans, will be webcast, and the public will not be allowed in the venue, a change from the tradition of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and its predecessors.

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The decision came after a boisterous lease sale in March, in which hundreds of protesters at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome yelled over announcements, stormed the stage and tried unsuccessfully to shut down the event, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The activists were part of the “keep it in the ground” movement, a campaign that’s taken off in the last year and seeks to stop the federal government from allowing additional fossil fuel development on public lands and offshore.

The protests have taken the federal government by surprise; the sale events have previously been low-key with few public observers or protesters.

It spurred efforts both in the Obama administration and Congress to move sales online in some way. The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill this month to require BOEM to move to a completely internet-based lease system within a year, inspired largely by the disruptive protests.

Environmentalists have pushed back against the efforts and accused the administration and oil and gas industry of trying to hide the sales from public scrutiny.

“New fossil fuel leasing is wrong for people and the planet. Moving lease sales online will only make it easier for fossil fuel companies to get away with turning our public lands and waters into energy sacrifice zones,” Marissa Knodel, the climate change campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said last week of the House bill.

Bids are not submitted or accepted at the auction events. Instead, companies wishing to bid on offshore parcels submit bids in sealed envelopes, and federal officials announce the bids and winners at the event itself.

The BOEM sought to highlight the efficiency benefits of holding the sale online.

“Making government data immediately available is a valuable resource for taxpayers, both in terms of dollars and cents but also in efficiency,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “Through the use of technology we can deliver our lease sale information in a much more effective and accessible way to a much wider audience.”

At the sale next month, all drilling parcels in the western Gulf of Mexico, off the shore of Texas, will be available for lease, amounting to 23.8 million acres. The administration estimates that up to 200 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 938 billion cubic feet of natural gas are available in the parcels for sale.