A pelican flies as a drilling platform is pictured near Breton Island, Louisiana May 3, 2010.
Energy and materials stocks led the market lower. Reuters

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. authority issuing permits to drill for oil and gas, announced Monday it will be hosting a series of public meetings ahead of a new round of oil and natural gas development lease offerings in the Gulf of Mexico.

The meetings will be held to gather information as the bureau readies an environmental impact statement. The Obama administration is getting ready to sell the rights to explore for oil and gas in more than 657,000 acres off the coast of Alabama and Florida. To see where the meetings will take place, click here.

The sale is likely to take place before 2017.

The sale is part of the bureau's five-year plan, which runs through 2017, and which will make an expected 75 percent of undiscovered, and technically recoverable, oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf available for development. In all, 12 lease sales are expected, BOEM said.

On June 20, BOEM will put 38 million acres up for auction in the Central Gulf of Mexico. Its estimated the area holds close to 31 billion barrels of oil and 134 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The sale comes as federal regulators are picking up where the 2010 permit moratorium following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill left off. In December, BOEM held the first lease sale since the accident, auctioning off 191 tracts in the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House is under increasing pressure, however, to open up tracts of federal offshore lands to exploration, with trade groups and Republican presidential candidates decrying what they say is the federal government's inaction in promoting domestic sources of energy. Critics of President Obama's energy policy say the pace of new lease permits in the Gulf of Mexico is not fast enough and is stifled by federal bureaucracy.

Last week, the Department of the Interior announced it is considering whether or not to open up parts of the mid- and south Atlantic to geologic surveying ahead of oil and natural gas development.