The United States government on Friday announced that the next auction of offshore oil and gas blocs scheduled for this August would be livestreamed online and closed to the public.
The move by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) comes after hundreds of protesters at a prior auction in March at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans disrupted the proceedings. The activists who purportedly belonged to the growing “keep it in the ground” environmental movement yelled over announcements, stormed the stage, and attempted unsuccessfully to shut down the event.
“We certainly did have to take into consideration the safety of everyone, both attendees and our employees,” said BOEM spokeswoman Caryl Fagot. “It really has been part of our reevaluation of how we do our lease sales and part of our ongoing effort to reduce cost… to help us be more efficient and open the process to more people.”
The protests have led to the administration of President Barack Obama and Congress to push for restricting public access to future auctions. For instance, one proposal approved this month by the House Natural Resources Committee would force the BOEM to move to a completely internet-based lease system within a year.
Environmentalists have panned the government, and accused officials, legislators, and the energy industry of trying to hide information from the public.
“New fossil fuel leasing is wrong for people and the planet,” said Marissa Knodel, the climate change campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in reference to the aforementioned House bill. “Moving lease sales online will only make it easier for fossil fuel companies to get away with turning our public lands and waters into energy sacrifice zones.”
The 24 August energy auction will be the first one of its kind in the U.S. to be viewed live via the Internet; a development that the BOEM tried to emphasize.
“Making government data immediately available is a valuable resource for taxpayers, both in terms of dollars and cents but also in efficiency,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper mentioned in an agency statement. “Through the use of technology we can deliver our lease sale information in a much more effective and accessible way to a much wider audience.”
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Nearly 4400 of oil and gas sites encompassing 23.8 million acres off the shore of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico will be up for grabs at the upcoming auction. The blocs vary in depth from five to 3340 meters containing as much as 200 million barrels of oil and a maximum 938 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
The government leased out 60 million acres of oil and gas deposits at a price tag of more than $3 billion during ten auctions in the western Gulf area since 2012. Yet the low cost of oil may have led the March auction to net the fourth lowest total in the Gulf’s Central District in twenty-three years.
By Erwin Cifuentes for Oilprice.com
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Erwin Cifuentes is a Contributing Editor for Southern Pulse Info where he focuses on politics, economics and security issues in Latin America and the Caribbean.…