By Ken Stickney
A Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesman said Wednesday that the federal agency encourages public input concerning oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, but may make changes on how it conducts its public auctions.
John Filostrat, a BOEM spokeman in New Orleans, said agency officials are reviewing how a March 23 oil and gas lease sale at the Superdome was conducted, and whether changes in security are needed.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and other activists — estimates suggested there were 100-300 people involved that day — protested that public auction, part of a movement ostensibly made to stop lease sales in the Gulf.
The March sale involved BOEM’s offer of 45 million acres — 8,349 blocks — for lease in the Central and Eastern planning areas of the outer continental shelf of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Thirty offshore energy companies submitted 148 bids; the sum of all bids totaled $179,172,819, bids that will be reviewed through June.
The sale was marked by the public protests, which began with activists marching or riding to the Superdome, then chanting during the reading of bids. Filostrat said some protesters tried to climb onto the stage but Superdome security did good work of maintaining order.
“We respect their right to peacefully protest,” Filostrat said, but said BOEM must make certain others at the meeting “feel safe.”
He said BOEM officials will review what happened at the Superdome on March 23 and “plan accordingly.”
Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said protesters would attend the August sale no matter where it is held. She said the organization’s members were “exuberant” that day, but remain committed to non-violence.
“It is a violent industry. It kills wildlife and makes people sick,” she said. She said when the government and industry face populations that are “in revolt” against them, they should “change their approach.”
Filostrat said the uncertainty of the exact date, time and place is unrelated to security concerns. He said BOEM must solicit bids for space, and will choose between holding the lease sale at the Superdome or elsewhere. He said more specific details will be released a month before the meeting.
He said it is “more than likely” that the lease sale will be held in New Orleans.
Rolfes said she was aware that BOEM might change locations but the government cannot “hand over public land” without a public meeting.
“We will show up wherever they go,” she said.
BOEM said this week it will offer 23.5 million acres for lease for oil and gas exploration in August; the time and date have not been finalized. Sale No. 248 will include 4,343 blocks located between nine and 250 off the Texas shore in water depths of 16 to 10,975 feet.
“The Gulf of Mexico remains a critical component of the administration’s domestic energy strategy to create jobs, foster economic opportunities and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in an issued statement. “The exploration and development of the Gulf of Mexico’s vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy.”
Protesters said they wanted an end to Gulf drilling and wanted oil and gas companies to hire 1,000 workers to “clean up and repair aging oil infrastructure, including rigs, platforms, pipelines and refineries.”