WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Monday that the federal government is moving forward with a major leasing sale for oil and gas drilling in the central Gulf of Mexico for March.
The 38-million-acre lease sale will come after a previously announced western Gulf sale that is scheduled for Nov. 28 in New Orleans. The newly announced sale will be March 20 in New Orleans.
The Louisiana congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, has largely criticized President Barack Obama for not opening more of the Gulf up for drilling and for not authorizing offshore oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
At the same time, environmental groups have assailed the president for not slowing down drilling more in the wake of the 2010 BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and along Louisiana’s coast.
“The Obama administration is fully committed to developing our domestic energy resources to create jobs, foster economic opportunities and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil,” Salazar said in the announcement. “We are moving full speed ahead on the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy because the exploration and development of the Gulf of Mexico’s vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy.”
Salazar said the lease sales will build on two major Gulf sales in the past 12 months — a 21 million acre sale held in December and a 39 million acre sale in June. The June sale generated $1.74 billion in high bids.
Salazar also reiterated that domestic oil drilling is at an eight-year high and that the foreign reliance on oil is down.
Critics have responded that domestic drilling is only up because of drilling on private lands and not because of leases on public lands.
In an email response, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., assailed Obama’s five-year drilling plan and noted that the planned March sale should have taken place in 2011.
“The administration has restricted far more resources on federal lands than they’ve made available, and they need to focus on opening up more of the outer continental shelf instead of claiming credit for a two-year-late lease sale,” Vitter said.
Landrieu used the lease sale announcement as an opportunity to tout her proposed OPEN Act legislation for expanded offshore drilling and for increased revenue sharing for Gulf Coast states from the oil-and-gas royalties that go to the Treasury.
“I am encouraged that the Central Gulf of Mexico, which is the backbone of our nation’s offshore oil and gas development, will continue to produce much-needed oil and gas for our country,” Landrieu said. “However, it is vital to open more areas to energy production.”