The Interior Department is reviewing more than $700 million dollars in bids to drill in the western Gulf of Mexico. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the major bids in the first sale since the BP oil spill last year, and then visited a business still reeling from the spill.
Salazar opened the session at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Industry leaders bid on leases for more than 21 million acres off the Texas coast; an area Salazar describes as three times the size of New Jersey. Salazar delayed lease sales after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. He says regulators and industry can now proceed using the best science available.
"Offshore drilling in my view will never be risk-free. But over the last 19 months we have moved quickly and aggressively with the most significant overhaul in oil and gas development and oversight in the history of the United States."
Environmental groups are challenging the sale, arguing that not enough has been learned about preventing another Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the risk to the Gulf is too great. Salazar says more safeguards are in place, and technology is improved.
"We don't want to forget the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon nor does industry, nor do conservationists, nor do the states, nor does anybody."
After the sale, Salazar visited the P&J Oyster company in the French Quarter to announce the first batch of restoration projects from $1 billion BP is funding as a start of the clean-up. Sal Sunseri of P&J says his family business is operating at a fraction of what it was before the spill.
"It's a step in the right direction. I feel that there's a lot to do to protect our coast. It's a beginning."
The $57 million worth of initial projects includes creating marsh in Barataria Bay in Plaquemines Parish, and building oyster habitats in six coastal areas.