By Ken Stickney

Coordinated protests of a Gulf of Mexico lease sale Wednesday may accomplish what the free market cannot do: fill the room.

Bids were collected from oil and gas industry representatives through Tuesday morning on 45 million acres of Gulf of Mexico leases off the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines.

Central Planning Area Lease Sale 241 and Eastern Planning Area Lease Sale 226 bids were scheduled to be opened and read Wednesday morning, the ninth and 10th offshore sales under a five-year plan ending in 2017. Janice Schneider, assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, and Mike Celata, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Gulf of Mexico regional director, will open bids and announce results.

The lease sales are for properties located from three to 230 nautical miles offshore. But if the most recent Gulf lease sales, completed last August, are a harbinger for Wednesday’s lease sales, bids would be few and modest.

“We have received bids. We are processing them to be ready to be opened at the sale,” BOEM spokeswoman Caryl Fagot said Tuesday. She said Tuesday afternoon that 26 companies submitted 148 bids on 128 blocks for Central Sale 241. Sale 241 included 8,349 unleased blocks. No bids were received for the 162 whole or partial blocks in Lease Sale 226.

Oil was selling at about $41 a barrel Tuesday afternoon, reflecting prices that have plummeted from more than $100 a barrel in summer 2014. Low commodity prices and a glut of oil on the world market have led to layoffs and industry uncertainty, and have weakened interest in lease bids.

For Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the lease sale will provide a backdrop for protests against new Gulf of Mexico leases and new drilling. She said buses and vans are carrying representatives of local and national environmental groups to the lease sale, where they will demand an end to Gulf of Mexico drilling and the immediate hiring by oil and gas companies of 1,000 workers to clean up what Rolfes said is aging oil infrastructure including rigs, platforms, pipelines and refineries.

Groups expected to participate include 350 Louisiana, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Bridge the Gulf, Vanishing Earth, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Oil Change International and Indegena, said Rolfes, a Lafayette native.

Rolfes said protesters would leave Duncan Plaza near New Orleans City Hall around 7 a.m. and walk to the Superdome, where the lease sale will be held. She said she expected “hundreds” to participate.

Fagot said public meetings are held well in advance of lease sales, where all participants can lodge complaints or concerns about lease sales. She said Wednesday morning’s bid openings are also public.

Rolfes said her organization was encouraged to object to new leases and new drilling when the Obama administration scratched possible plans to drill off the Atlantic Coast, and said she hopes Louisiana and Gulf Coast states will turn to renewable energy sources rather than oil and gas.

“Trade associations are doing things like killing solar energy tax credits,” she said. “We need to embrace wind and solar energy. Do it now, or be left behind.”

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The Advertiser: Protests to greet Gulf lease bidders