More Gulf waters leased for oil, gas

oil lease map
The federal government held a lease sale last week for oil and gas drilling in the areas in red in the Gulf of Mexico. Green and blue areas indicate previously sold leases. - Submitted | U.S. Dept. of the Interior

Twenty-nine companies bid more than $178 million for the leasing rights to explore and drill for oil and gas under 801,000 acres of the Gulf of Mexico at a lease sale on Aug. 15 in New Orleans.

The lease sale was the third held under the 2017-22 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In January, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced a new proposed program for 2019-24, but the current schedule for 10 lease sales for 78 million acres will continue until it is approved, according to the department.

Zinke told Florida Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year that Florida would be “off the table” for offshore drilling, but later admitted at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that “Florida is still in the process.”

The tracts are located from three to 231 miles offshore of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas in water depths ranging from nine to more than 11,000 feet. The closest tract to Anna Maria Island is in the Vernon Basin, southwest of Manatee County.

The Gulf of Mexico OCS, covering about 160 million acres, contains about 48 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas, according to the Department of the Interior.

The top 10 bidders at the sale are Exxon Mobil Corp., Hess Corp., Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Equinor Gulf of Mexico LLC, BP Exploration & Production Inc., Anadarko U.S. Offshore LLC, Shell Offshore Inc. E&P USA, Inc. Deep Gulf Energy III, and LLC Walter Oil & Gas Corporation.

The bidders will pay revenues from the leases to the U.S. Treasury Department, the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund.

“(The) lease sale is yet another step our nation has taken to achieve economic security and energy dominance,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a press release. “The results from the lease sale will help secure well-paying offshore jobs for rig and platform workers, support staff onshore, and related industry jobs, while generating much-needed revenue to fund everything from conservation to infrastructure.”

“The reality is that there is no such thing as safe offshore drilling,” Bradley Marshall, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice, wrote in a press release. “In Florida, millions of jobs in the tourism industry are at stake in protecting our beaches. That’s why so many of Florida’s leaders, regardless of what political party they belong to, have been so protective of our coasts all these years. The bottom line is that it is irresponsible to threaten Florida’s beaches. Instead of continuing to invest in the harmful fossil fuels of the past, we should be investing in the clean, renewable energy of the future. That’s where the jobs are at, and that’s what will protect Florida’s coastal environment.”

“A call for drilling any closer to Florida’s shores than we have today is absurd and deeply troubling,” Linda Young, Executive Director of the Florida Clean Water Network, wrote in a press release. “The repercussions of (bidder) BP’s reckless disaster live on for thousands of people across the Gulf, as well as the marine life, birds and other land-based animals that will not recover in our lifetimes.”

A proposed amendment to the Florida constitution would prohibit “drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas” if approved. The proposal is on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election; it will need at least 60 percent of voters to pass.

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