Licensing Update - USA

Large areas to be made available in Gulf of Mexico
This article appeared in Vol. 14, No. 2 - 2017


The United States Department of the Interior announced in early March that it will offer 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico – nearly 300,000 km2 – for oil and gas exploration and development. The proposed region-wide lease sale has been scheduled for August 16, 2017 and will include all available unleased areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It includes acreage in offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Lease Sale 249 will be the first offshore offering under the new five-year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017–2022, in which two Gulf lease sales will be held each year. Most interest is expected to be in acreage in the Central Planning Area. 

A total of 13,725 unleased blocks are included in the sale, which extends south to the Mexican border. However, everything within 200 km of the Florida coast will remain off limits until at least 2022, unless Congress amends the Gulf of Mexico Security Act which bans oil and gas activity in that area. The terms include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region. 

Water depths in the acreage to be offered range from just 3m to 3,400m. For areas in less that 800m of water, it is suggested that leases will be offered for a five-year initial period, plus three years for drilling below 7,600m TVD SS, while in waters of 800–1,600m there will be an initial seven-year period. Leases in over 1,600m of water will have a ten-year initial period. 

After protesters disrupted a number of offshore lease auctions, all lease sales are now routinely livestreamed. Lease Sale 249 is scheduled to be livestreamed from New Orleans on August 16, 2017. 

According to the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf contains in the region of 48.46 Bb of technically recoverable oil and 141.76 Tcf recoverable gas. It is estimated that 211 to 1,118 MMbo and 0.547 to 4.424 Tcfg could be developed in the leases offered in the next five-year program. There is one remaining GoM lease sale to be held in the current (2012–2017) program, which has already awarded more than 2,000 leases, covering nearly 300,000 km2. The BOEM estimates that more than 97% of the leased offshore area of the US is in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • 2017-2022 oil and gas leasing area for the GOM region. (Source: BOEM)


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