The Obama administration on Wednesday reported the poorest turnout for an oil and gas lease sale in over 30 years.
The lease sale was the final one that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold to allow companies to conduct offshore oil and gas drilling in the western Gulf of Mexico.
The auction drew the fewest bids since the early 1980s, at least, and only generated around $18 million in potential government revenue, the industry news service Argus first reported.
The agency attributed the poor turnout, in which just three companies made bids, to the global supply glut and low oil prices that have been curtailing production and cutting jobs in the industry.
"Though this sale reflects today's market conditions and industry's current development strategy, the bidding confirms that there is continued interest in the deepwater areas of the Gulf," said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper. "The Gulf of Mexico continues to be one of the most productive basins in the world and is an important part of our Nation's domestic energy portfolio."
The lease sale has been surrounded by increasing controversy, as environmental activists used it to call out President Obama for not doing enough to combat climate change, such as by preventing the sale from happening. The activists attempted to occupy the bureau's offices in Louisiana on Tuesday when the president was in Baton Rouge to survey the damage of major flooding there. The lease sale was held at the Superdome in New Orleans on Wednesday.
Hopper noted that Wednesday's lease sale also marked the first time an auction has been webcast, marking a change from when the sales had to be attended physically. Bureau officials said one of the reasons for conducting the sales online, instead of at a public meeting, was in response to increasing attempts by activists to shutdown the proceedings.
The webcasts are in part a security measure, but they also make the lease events available to a broader audience, a spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner.
Several of the activists that attempted to occupy the bureau's headquarters were arrested on Tuesday. The arrests gained them the praise of some national environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity who are attempting to stop offshore drilling in the Gulf.
"The brave activists arrested today are part of a vast and fast-growing national movement calling for real action on climate change, including a halt to new fossil fuel leasing," said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center's oceans program director. "If President Obama is going to make good on his promise to address this crisis, he should start with cancelling this lease sale in New Orleans and starting a rapid transition to safer, smarter energy sources."
The group issued a report Tuesday to bolster the movement against offshore oil and gas drilling. The report found that burning fossil fuels produced from federal waters in the Gulf would release 33 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which would be the equivalent emissions of running nearly 10,000 coal-fired power plants for one year.