WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- Oil companies paid more than $1 billion collectively to acquire 1.6 million acres of oil and natural gas blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government said.
The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published the final tallies from a March 20 lease sale for the central Gulf of Mexico.
Critics of President Obama's energy policies say his administration has blocked off key areas to energy explorers. The BOEM counters its lease sales, like the one in March, are contributing to record lows for foreign oil imports.
BOEM said it awarded 307 leases for 1.6 million acres off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Combined, the accepted high bids are worth $1.1 billion.
"The sale's results reflect strong, continuing industry interest in the Gulf of Mexico and President Obama's commitment to expand oil and natural gas production safely and responsibly -- reducing our dependence on foreign oil and supporting American energy jobs," the agency said in a statement Monday.
More than 35 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico went on the auction block in March. The government said the total acreage could generate as much as 890 million barrels of oil and as much as 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Unleased tracts go back on the auction block next year.