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 The Interior Department’s lease sales this week in the Central Gulf of Mexico received the highest bids to explore for oil and gas there in at least three decades. This result seemed to surprise Secretary of Interior Salazar. But it should not come as a shock. Under Secretary Salazar’s leadership, the Department of Interior (DOI) has cancelled and delayed lease sales in the Gulf since the beginning of the Obama Administration, resulting in fewer opportunities to purchase leases, so demand has been backed up waiting for a sale.

In March, 2010 – less than 1 month before the Macondo well blowout — President Obama announced his plans for future OCS exploration through the end of 2012 and the guidance that would be used to develop the new 2012 to2017 plan.   This plan was actually a huge step backward from the proposed 2010 to 2015 plan, in that it dropped numerous areas from consideration for leasing.  Still, it did include some small additions to leasing in areas that were previously off limits due to the moratoria. This plan was abandoned quietly after the Macondo blowout, leading to the cancellation of the leases mentioned earlier.

On November 8, 2011, the Obama Administration announced its new lease plan for 2012 to 2017 that closes the majority of the outer continental shelf to new energy production only allowing lease sales in areas that were already open to drilling. It includes lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, but leaves out the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the vast majority of OCS areas off Alaska. In the past, lease plans for OCS development averaged five lease sales a year. The proposed 2012 to2017 plan cuts those lease sale offerings in half, requires higher minimum bids and shorter lease periods, and reduces lease terms to 5 or 7 years.[vii] The plan is designed as if the moratoria lifted by President Bush and Congress in 2008 would be in place through 2017, because no areas are included for exploration that had been off limits throughout the decades of the moratoria.

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