Washington, Dec 15 - The US announced that it will hold a major auction of oil and gas leases in the US Gulf of Mexico.
In a statement, the government said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will travel to New Orleans Wednesday to hold a major oil and gas lease sale covering more than 85,000 sq. km in the Gulf of Mexico - a move that comes 18 months after BP's massive oil spill, the largest in the country's history.
The sale of rights to the deepwater tracts also comes on the heels of last week's lease sale covering more than 567 sq. km in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve.
The initiative is one of several steps, including additional lease sales, offshore lease extensions and steps to streamline permitting, that are aimed at meeting a series of directives announced by Obama in May, the White House said.
Those moves, which have included licenses to drill in areas of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico that were previously off-limits, are aimed at achieving the president's goal of "expanding safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production".
The Department of the Interior estimates that Wednesday's lease sale could result in the production of between 222 million and 423 million barrels of oil and up to 2.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the White House said.
The administration also noted that, in the wake of the oil spill resulting from the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, it put in place "unprecedented safety reforms for offshore drilling, working with industry to improve practices and oversight".
Those steps, the White House said, will ensure these new areas are developed safely.
Since implementing the new safety standards, the administration has "approved 97 shallow water permits in the Gulf of Mexico and 211 permits for activities at 60 deepwater wells", the statement said. (IANS)