WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. federal government said it plans to sell off millions of acres of offshore areas to drillers in an effort to stimulate domestic oil and gas production.
The 12th lease sale under a five-year program ending next year, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it will offer up approximately 47 million acres off the southern U.S. coast for oil and gas development.
"This proposed sale is another important step to promote responsible domestic energy production through the safe, environmentally sound exploration and development of the nation's offshore energy resources," BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.
Production declines in U.S. shale basins brought on by lower energy prices are offset somewhat by projected gains from the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expected crude oil production offshore to reach 1.9 million barrels per day by late 2017, a level that would be 25 percent higher than last year if estimates prove correct.
Natural gas production follows similar trends and, by the second quarter of next year, the federal government estimates the United States will be a net exporter of gas.
Royal Dutch Shell started production from the Stones development in the Gulf of Mexico in early September. By the end of 2017, the company said Stones should be producing around 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 16 percent of the total oil and 4.5 percent of the total natural gas produced in the United States.
Lease sales last year brought few bidders to the table, though industry leaders said the economics of Gulf exploration were more favorable than in other U.S. basins despite the low interest. The BOEM has characterized the area as "one of the world's most prolific hydrocarbon basins."
The first 11 leases under the current five-year program netted more than $3 billion.