April 2 (UPI) -- Giving drillers the rights to reach nearly 50 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico will come with a degree of responsibility, the U.S. government said.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it's putting 77.3 million acres on the auction block for oil and gas drillers Aug. 15. It's the third offshore lease under a five-year lease plan by President Donald Trump, whose put achieving energy dominance at the forefront of his agenda.
Not included in the August lease are blocks near military interests and waters near the coast of Florida. Marine sanctuaries in the Gulf of Mexico are also excluded.
"Striking the right balance between protecting the environment, powering America and achieving American energy dominance is our ultimate goal," Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said in a statement.
In late December, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement published a proposed change in the rules for offshore oil and gas drilling that would amend parts of the oil and gas safety regulations to remove the requirement for a third party to certify that certain safety devices are "designed to function in the most extreme conditions to which it will be exposed and that the device will function as designed."
A new five-year lease program proposed by the federal government, and opened for public comment, called for 19 lease sales offshore Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic.
Florida is at the heart of the debate over President Donald Trump's offshore energy agenda. In January, U.S. Interior Secreary Zinke told Florida Gov. Rick Scott his state was removed from drilling consideration, but Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, later testified that wasn't the case.
During testimony before the Senate last month, Zinke added that Florida was "still in the process."
The U.S. Gulf of Mexico contains about 48 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas, according to the U.S. Interior Department.
An auction last month, the largest ever for the region, brought in only modest interest as sector players remain cautious about market recovery.
The U.S. government announced the lease Friday.