WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is scheduling the first oil and natural gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico since last year's BP oil spill.
There is one major change from previous sales.
The Interior Department said that it wants to increase the minimum bid amount for blocks of water in depths of 1,312 feet and greater to $100, up from $37.50 per acre. The department said that it wants to ensure fair market value for the leases, as well as to encourage bidders who are ready to move quickly to develop the oil and natural gas resources.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich said that the administration is acting after taking "aggressive steps to renew our commitment to the responsible stewardship of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf" since the BP disaster.
He said the agency is seeking a higher minimum bidding price "to ensure that areas with the greatest resource potential are developed and to decrease the amount of leased acreage that is warehouse and goes unexplored."
He and other Obama administrators have been criticized by oil and gas industry officials, as well as oil state lawmakers, for acting too slowly to restore production since the BP disaster. But some environmental groups said that the agency is moving to resume production before all the needed safeguards have been put into place.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressed confidence the timing of the new lease sale is right.
"Since Deepwater Horizon, we have strengthened oversight at every stage of the oil and gas development process, including deepwater drilling safety, subsea blowout containment, and spill response capability. Exploration and development of our Western Gulf's vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy," Salazar said.
http://media.nola.com/politics/photo/9910255-large.jpgRay Nelson, Tim Ford and Tom Young look over a map of oil leases at the Louisiana Superdome during the last oil and gas lease sale on March 17, 2010. A month later the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subequent oil spill put a temporary halt to the sales. The Interior Department announced Friday it will hold the first lease sale since that disaster in New Orleans on Dec. 14.