WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- One billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of gas could be produced from acreage up for auction in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. government officials said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau announced plans for a lease sale in the so-called Eastern Planning Area in the gulf.
The BOEM said an estimated 40 million acres will be up for auction in New Orleans in March.
Beaudreau said that, with the Gulf of Mexico accounting for 20 percent of all U.S. oil production and 6 percent of natural gas production, the lease would help ensure North American energy security.
"As a critical component of the nation's energy portfolio, the gulf holds vital energy resources that can continue to generate jobs and spur economic opportunities for gulf producing states as well as further reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil," he said in a statement Thursday.
The leases will be the fourth and fifth under a five-year program launched in 2012 for offshore oil and natural gas development.
The Interior Department said the first three lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico unlocked more than 79 million acres for development.