Efforts mount to expand U.S. offshore drilling

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 20 percent of total production of crude oil per day.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Aug. 18, 2017 at 7:30 AM
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Aug. 18 (UPI) -- After a rebound in the value of high bids for oil and gas acreage in the Gulf of Mexico, industry supporters said it was time to push for greater access.

"We have an opportunity in the next offshore leasing plan to truly embrace our nation's energy potential and ensure American consumers and businesses continue to benefit from the U.S. energy renaissance," Erik Milito, the director of exploration and production for the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

The comments from Milito, whose organization represents the business interests of hundreds of oil and gas companies, followed the first lease in the Gulf of Mexico under President Donald Trump. Trump has put oil, gas and coal at the forefront of his energy policies in an effort to advance an already-robust sector of the U.S. economy.

The API estimates the oil and gas industry has added $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy since 2015.

The first lease auction, held earlier this week, covered the entire southern coastal region, save for protected areas. It generated $121 million in high bids, compared with the $18 million from a lease last year for the western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. High bids this week covered 510,000 acres, a tiny fraction of the 75.9 million acres on the auction block.

This week's auction offered a reduction in royalty rates for shallow-water areas to attract bidders in the weakened energy market, though bids were skewed toward deep-water acreage.

The public comment period for a new national offshore leasing program ended earlier this week. Efforts by the Trump administration to open up more federal waters were met by challenges from environmental groups who said they were alarmed by the desire to put more acreage on the auction block, including possibly some of the first offers for offshore California in decades.

In one of his final moves in office, former President Barack Obama used parts of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban oil and gas work in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska, as well as Atlantic coast areas.

"The time is now to make the U.S. energy dominant," House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-UT, said in a statement.

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