US Interior Department Schedules Sale of Alaska Drilling Leases

The Obama administration said Tuesday it will offer oil-drilling leases on nearly 4.5 million acres in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve during an auction scheduled for November.

The auction, which will allow energy companies to bid for exploration rights on selected tracts in the 23-million-acre reserve, is part of President Barack Obama's 2011 pledge to hold annual lease sales in the government-owned swath of land on Alaska's North Slope.

On Monday, the administration said it will hold a separate auction in March for leases on about 38 million acres in the central Gulf of Mexico.

The announcements come as Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney steps up his attacks on Mr. Obama's energy policies.

Leveling criticism at the president's decision to suspend drilling after the Deepwater Horizon spill and to deny immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Romney says he will give more control to states to manage their energy resources.

The lease sale in the Alaska reserve is scheduled to take place Nov. 7, one day after the election.

"The energy resources of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska are essential to meeting our nation's energy demands and will enhance domestic energy production and decrease dependency on foreign oil sources," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

While the resources of the Alaska reserve are promising, only exploratory drilling has taken place there so far and not any actual production. During the last lease sale, in December, the Interior Department offered 3 million acres. It generated 17 winning bids covering approximately 120,000 acres. The Obama administration said in August it was developing a long-term management plan that restricted oil and natural gas drilling on about half of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve.


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