First oil and gas leases since spill to be sold

GULF OF MEXICO — The Department of Interior says it has set a December date for the next Gulf offshore oil and natural gas lease sale — the first such sale since the Deepwater Horizon explosion and BP oil spill.

The Dec. 14 sale will take place in New Orleans in the Superdome and include all the unleased areas in an area known as the Western Gulf Planning Area offshore Texas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday oversight of deepwater drilling has been strengthened and the industry has improved its ability to contain a subsea blowout and respond to a spill.

Tommy Beaudreau, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, says the decision to hold a lease sale was done “after careful analysis” of the effects of the BP spill.

The sale will cover 3,913 unleased blocks covering more than 21 million acres. The leases are located between nine and 250 miles offshore and in water depths from 16 feet to more than 10,975 feet.

BOEM estimates the lease sale could result in the production of 222 million to 423 million barrels of oil and 1.49 to 2.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Officials say the minimum bid for leases in water depths of 1,312 feet and greater will go up from $37.50 to $100 an acre. Raising the minimum bid will prevent leases from being sold and left inactive. Officials say that leases sold for less than $100 an acre in the past 15 years mostly went untouched.

The Interior Department says raising the minimum bid will “discourage companies from inventorying offshore acreage that they are unlikely to explore during the lease term.”

The minimum bid for leases in shallower water will remain at $25 per acre.

Oil giant BP PLC, which owned the deepsea well at the center of last year’s disaster, is currently the biggest leaseholder in the Gulf.

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