Despite White House Wishes, US Government Nets $191 Million From High Bidders for Gulf of Mexico Blocks

The auction was held as the result of a US district court order issued in June that overruled the Biden administration's attempt to suspend lease sales.

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The agency that overseas US federal waters for oil and gas development said today that it successfully leased more than 300 blocks equaling 1.7 million acres in the US Gulf of Mexico. The 257th such auction resulted in a bid total of more than $191 million from 33 companies, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said on Wednesday.

Higher oil prices appear to have driven more interest in the Gulf of Mexico properties as compared with last year's sale which, also held in November, which netted just over $120 million in high bids for 93 blocks.

Also notable is that the auction was held amid the backdrop of a US district court injunction issued in June. That court decision was preliminary, but it nonetheless overruled an executive order from the White House in January that suspended new federal leasing pending a review of the prior administration’s policies.

The Biden administration has since made several smaller moves to curtail new drilling activity, including last month’s banning of oil and gas developments around a national park in New Mexico. Meanwhile, with oil and gas prices rising to multiyear highs, some observers have pointed out that the Biden administration has quietly approved 3,091 new drilling permits since taking office, or an average of 332 per month compared to the Trump administration’s average of 300 permits per month.

BOEM said in a release that the lease sale was consistent with the court decision while noting that the Biden administration continues its appeal. The release added that the Biden administration “is continuing its comprehensive review of its offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programs and initiating reforms.”

Some of the coming changes BOEM highlighted include an update to greenhouse-gas emission models that will account for substitution impacts and foreign imports of oil use. The agency said it will also begin analyzing the social cost associated with carbon emissions “to better understand the true impacts of fossil fuel leasing decisions.”

In total, lease sale 257 featured more than 15,000 untapped blocks ranging from 3 to 232 miles offshore the Gulf of Mexico’s western, central, and eastern planning areas. Water depths in the blocks are as shallow as 9 ft and extended to more than 11,115 ft.