Lease Sale 181 Raises $340 Million

Exploration companies offered high bids totaling $340.5 million for 95 tracts in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It was the first time the government had leased acreage in that region since 1988. Fourteen exploration companies made 190 bids for tracts in the 1.5 million acre area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. About half the available tracts drew no bids.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., had the most high bids, totaling $167.4 million on 28 tracts, followed by Shell Offshore with $127.9 million in winning bids on 28 tracts.

5.9 million was what was original proposed for leasing in the eastern Gulf, but cuts came after protests from environmentalists and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Opponents have promised to continue to fight to keep oil companies from developing the areas. The original lease area came as close as 17 miles to Pensacola in Florida's Panhandle, raising concern about damage an oil spill could cause to the tourist beaches. The area up for auction is at least 100 miles from the shorelines of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi and the eastern edge is 285 miles from Tampa Bay. Environmentalists who demonstrated outside the sale said their next step would be an attempt at blocking drilling and production in the area.

The tracts auctioned this week, like those that have been sold previously in the western and central Gulf, are unproven. And the future of additional sales in the eastern Gulf is uncertain. Currently, the MMS is proposing additional auctions in 2002 and 2005, but that has not received final approval from the Bush administration. As a result, some of the bidding for the tracts was heated, with three tracts receiving high bids of more than $20 million and six others attracting top offers exceeding $10 million.