The Obama administration Monday said it would
open up another area of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas
exploration, the third such expansion of mining there since the 2010
BP oil rig disaster.
The proposed sale of leases for 15.4 million hectares of the central Gulf is to take place in March 2013, US Secretary of Interior Ken Slazar said. The new area could contain reserves of up to nearly 1 billion barrels of oil and massive natural gas, officials said.
The area ranges from 5 to 370 kilometres off shore in depths from 3 metres to over 3,600 metres.
Previously, since December 2011, the Obama administration offered 24.3 million hectares for lease bids. So far, it has taken in 2.25 billion dollars for leases on 1.4 million hectares, the interior department said in its statement.
Oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico has been a sore subject since the 2010 massive oil spill following the explosion of the Deep Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers. It was believed to have been the largest accidental oil spill in industry history.
President Barack Obama has moved to open more exploration for oil in some areas that have traditionally been off limits, or at least contentious due to environmental concerns. But he has also pushed through investments in wind and solar energy and biodiesel development and issued regulations to cut car mileage in half by 2025 under his "all-of-the-above" all-inclusive energy strategy.
"I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy," Obama said in January. "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here."
Stricter safety and environmental regulations on ocean drilling followed the BP disaster. Just last week, Royal Dutch Shell Plc was forced to put off drilling for oil in Alaskan Arctic waters until next year's spring thaw, after it discovered damages on a spill-containment dome -a new US requirement for ocean drilling.
Since Obama took office, domestic oil production is at an eight-year high and natural gas flow is at an all-time high, officials said. Foreign oil imports account for less than 50 per cent of America's consumption of 19 million barrels a day - the lowest percentage since 1995.
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