The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Monday called for public comment on plans to extend oil and natural gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
The bureau, the permitting authority overseeing federal waters, will host public meetings for comment as the Obama administration readies selling exploration leases for more than 657,000 acres off the coast of Alabama and Florida.
The administration plans to auction 38 million acres of Gulf waters on June 20.
In December, the Department of the Interior auctioned off 191 tracts of the Gulf for $712.7 million. ConocoPhillips (NYMEX: COP) spent $103 million on a single tract and successfully bid for 75 tracts of the Gulf. Exxon Mobil (NYMEX: XOM), came in second with 50 plots, in what was the first lease sale since the BP (NYSE: BP) Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.
Public comment is being sought on a planned environmental impact study to be completed in advance of the lease sale. The lease sale is being prepared at a time when energy policy is a hot-button issue in this year's election. President Barack Obama is being criticized by Republicans for his views and actions on developing domestic energy sources in federally controlled regions like the Gulf.
John Filostrat, a spokesperson for BOEM, said there is no set scheduled date for the two sales, but that they will likely take place before 2017 as part BOEM's proposed leasing program. The comments gathered will be used as a framework from which the bureau's environmental impact study will be based.
This is a way of engaging the public about their concerns, Filostrat said.
Not in Florida Waters
Once the study is written, there will be a new round of public comments, Filostrat said.
The area is known to have active leases, said BOEM. Those being put to auction could be as far as 120 miles from the coast in the eastern planning area of the Gulf.
The leases are not being sold in Florida waters where a congressional moratorium prohibits exploration and drilling.
BOEM warned that just because the study is being prepared, there's no guarantee of the lease sales.
The price of a barrel of oil Monday morning rose 67 cents to $107.75 on the N.Y. Mercantile Exchange.