NEW ORLEANS -- It is a body of water that federal officials say is part of an overall U.S. energy strategy: the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf was front and center Wednesday, as the federal government offered up 20 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico, at an oil and gas lease sale in New Orleans.
"There is significant interest in the deep water, in particular, in the western gulf," said Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
In all, 131 bids were submitted for 116 blocks in the western Gulf of Mexico. The amount for all bids submitted totaled $157 million and marked the third oil and gas lease sale in the past year alone for the Gulf of Mexico.
"These sales have reflected more than $2 billion worth of investment by industry in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a reflection of how strong and how central the Gulf of Mexico is to the United States energy portfolio," Beaudreau said.
With that focus, though, are concerns about safety.
"What we hope is that the industry takes that to heart and works to improve their safety record," said Kristen Evans of the Oil Monitoring Group.
In light of the 2010 BP Oil Spill, and on the heels of the recent Black Elk oil platform fire off of Grand Isle, the monitoring group made the rounds at the sale.
"We are here to continue to remind the energy sector that safety comes first," Evans said. "Safety of workers, safety of the environment-- and that complying with the environmental regulations and the safety regulations, should be a priority."
It is something federal officials said they want, too.
"As with all operators, we need to see continuous vigilance on safety," Beaudreau said.
Hours before the sale began, the EPA announced it was suspending BP from any new federal contracts. Either way, BOEM officials said BP did not submit any bids for Wednesday's sale.