WASHINGTON — The Interior Department said Tuesday it will propose the largest oil and gas lease sale ever held in the United States — nearly 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
The sale, scheduled for March in New Orleans, includes all available unleased areas on the Gulf's Outer Continental Shelf, a reflection of the Trump administration's strategy to maximize oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters.
Even so, only a small fraction of the tracts available are expected to receive bids. A similar lease sale in August drew bids on just 90 offshore tracts totaling about a half-million acres — less than 1 percent of the 76 million acres available. That sale received $121 million in high bids.
The money and rental payments, along with royalty payments on any future production from leases on Outer Continental Shelf, are directed to the U.S. Treasury, Gulf Coast states, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Historic Preservation Fund.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touted the upcoming sale as part of the administration's bid to achieve what President Donald Trump calls "energy dominance" in the global market.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy all applauded the job-creation potential for the lease sale.
"My constituents in southeast Louisiana will be leading the way in this exploration and development that will create good jobs and kickstart more economic growth. This bold action helps us continue fighting for the responsible development of our natural resources that bring critical dollars to restore our coast," Scalise said.
"Investing in energy creates better jobs with better benefits for working families, strengthens our national security and strengthens our energy independence,” Cassidy said.
"Our Louisiana workers are ready to go back to work,” Kennedy said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke and congressional Republicans were taking credit for an Obama-era policy to offer oil and gas leases from all available tracts in the Gulf, rather than separating the western and eastern Gulf areas from the more productive central Gulf region off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
"Republicans spent eight years alleging the Obama administration was killing oil and gas when they knew it wasn't true," Grijalva said. "Now they're taking credit for lease sales made under the Obama leasing plan. Tomorrow they may as well claim credit for capturing Osama Bin Laden."