Dozens protest at Superdome ahead of Gulf oil, gas lease sale _lowres (copy)

Advocate file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Protesters gathered April 2, 2016 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to object to and oil and gas lease sale and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. 

About a dozen protesters with a petition to stop a federal oil lease sale scheduled for Wednesday were barred from entering the Jefferson Parish building leased by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is in charge of the sale.

Five months after protesters disrupted a separate oil and gas lease sale for tracts in the Gulf of Mexico, the government decided to livestream the lease sale and close the site in New Orleans where bids are read.

Wednesday's sale, offering all 23.8 million acres available for drilling and exploration off of Texas coast, will be the first federal offshore oil and gas auction broadcast live on the internet, according to the agency.

Four people were arrested by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office for occupying the BOEM office in Elmwood Tuesday morning, demanding that President Barack Obama cancel the Aug. 24 lease sale for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

In March, about 150 opponents of oil and gas drilling and exploration in the Gulf chanted and waved signs during a lease sale off the eastern Gulf states from Louisiana to Florida. In April, about 50 brought their chants into a federal open house about potential effects of continuing the lease program for five more years.

"That certainly did play into our decision" to close the Superdome room where bids will be read, bureau spokeswoman Caryl Fagot said Monday. "But we had been looking at ways to modernize holding the sale to broaden our audience by being able to provide it to everyone ... rather than having to come physically to the sale."

On Tuesday, Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies prevented protesters from entering BOEM's office on Elmwood Park Boulevard, saying the building is privately owned and the owner did not want the demonstrators inside.

The protesters said they were trying to exercise their First Amendment right to express their views and petition the government.

BOEM already has been running lease renewals online, Fagot said. "That was something we were looking at for a while, to see how those were proceeding," she said.

The agency had a contract with the Superdome for two lease sales this year, but was able to modify it and get a smaller room than the ballroom where previous sales have been held, Fagot said.

"We have not worked on what we're going to do for the upcoming sales in 2017," she said.

Last year's sale was the smallest ever for the western Gulf. Five companies bid on 33 tracts for a total of $22.7 million in high bids. Each tract drew one bid.

"Making government data immediately available is a valuable resource for taxpayers, both in terms of dollars and cents but also in efficiency," BOEM director Abigail Ross Hopper said earlier this month. "Through the use of technology we can deliver our lease sale information in a much more effective and accessible way to a much wider audience."