The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Gulf Lease Sale Emphasizes Need for Expanded Opportunities

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 21, 2012

Some details from Wednesday’s federal lease sale in the central Gulf of Mexico (news coverage here and here):

  • Size – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) sale attracted high bonus bids of $1.7 billion for the area off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – ranging as far as 230 miles into the Gulf. 
  • Bids – Fifty-six companies submitted 593 bids on 454 tracts, with the sum of all bids totaling more than $2.6 billion. That’s a big sale, though not the biggest ever. According to BOEM the biggest value lease sale was $3.68 billion in the central Gulf in March 2008. The last sale in the central Gulf in March 2010 totaled $949 million. 
  • Record – The highest bid on a single tract was $157.1 million, submitted by Statoil in the Mississippi Canyon, Block 718 – about three times higher than the previous top bid of $52.5 million submitted in 2010.

Now, some perspective.  As API’s Erik Milito said Tuesday, the simple fact that the federal government held a lease sale in the central Gulf is important. It had been more than two years since drilling blocks had been put up for bid. That BOEM opened more than 38 million acres after a two-years-plus hiatus was a positive step.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar heralded the sale as evidence of the administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy:

“When it comes to domestic production, the president has made clear he is committed to expanding oil and natural gas production safely and responsibly, and today's sale is just the latest example of his administration delivering on that commitment. … The Gulf is back. There is great robustness in oil and gas activity currently under way in the Gulf, as well as interest in additional exploration.”

Well, it’s probably more accurate to say the Gulf is getting back. Unfortunately, just returning to 2010 levels of activity (rig counts, etc.) concedes that two years of production were negatively affected by the administration’s policies – the 2010 deepwater drilling moratorium and the slow pace of permitting when the ban was lifted. Given that context, sure, industry was enthusiastic about Wednesday’s sale. National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi:

“A sale of this size signals a strong industry commitment to the Gulf of Mexico and to our nation’s energy future and to more domestic jobs.”

More context: The areas opened for bidding this week have been considered before, which is what Milito emphasized on Tuesday. The central Gulf was not a new area for development. So, instead of restricting opportunity to these areas, the government should be expanding it to new ones. As Luthi suggests, industry is willing and able to do more. Just imagine the robustness of the bidding if the lease areas were in the Eastern Gulf or off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts – areas with undiscovered, technically recoverable reserves estimated at 1.40 billion, 10.37 billion and 3.82 billion barrels, respectively (see map).

Milito from Tuesday:

“Exploration is what leads to production. And it is important to understand that it is critical to maintain a robust leasing program to allow companies to explore new prospects and replace the production that is coming from existing wells. Maintaining the status quo won’t work.”

Opening up more U.S. resources for development (onshore as well) is the real path to expanding domestic oil and natural gas production – which is fundamental to a true, all-of-the-above energy approach. It’s critical to an American-made energy strategy that will create jobs, expand the economy and help us be more energy secure in the future.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.