NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The federal government is selling off oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico during a sale Wednesday, but environmentalists opposed to fossil fuels development on public lands plan to protest the sale.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is offering approximately 45 million acres for exploration and development. Companies submit bids in advance to the agency which announces the results at the sale held at the Superdome.
Wednesday's auction will be for lots in the central and eastern sections of the Gulf. The central region is generally the most active part of the Gulf. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Tuesday that it had received 148 bids on 128 blocks in the central section but had received no bids for the eastern region.
Interest has been limited in recent sales as the industry struggles with low energy prices.
Five companies bid a total of less than $23 million on 33 tracts in the western Gulf in August of last year, a record low for that section.
The Wednesday sale has become a rallying cry for environmentalists, who are calling for an end to leasing of public lands for oil, gas and coal development. Environmentalists have protested at similar government auctions around the country in recent months, said Laurel Sutherlin, from the Rainforest Action Network.
The groups are also calling for the oil and gas industry to hire 1,000 workers to repair the industry's aging infrastructure, said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. But she said for the long-term, the country shouldn't be looking toward fossil fuels at all.
"We really need to be pivoting toward renewables," she said. "We're going to be left with a dead industry."
But the head of the National Ocean Industries Association, an industry lobbying group, called Wednesday's gulf lease sale "vitally important," saying offshore lease sales contribute to the economy and develop energy. Randall Luthhi said a combination of factors, including low oil prices as well as federal regulations and what he described as a "clear lack of support" by the Obama administration for domestic fossil fuel production could result in small sales Wednesday.
The Obama administration last week announced it would bar oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast, a move cheered by environmentalists but criticized by industry groups and many Republicans.