NEW ORLEANS-- For the first time since the BP oil spill, millions of acres in the Central Gulf of Mexico are up for grabs during an oil and gas lease sale taking place in New Orleans. In all, 39 million acres of potential oil and gas drilling are for sale, with 48 companies submitting bids on hundreds of tracts - anywhere from three miles to more than 230 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Wednesday's oil and gas lease sale is the first in the Central Gulf, since the Deepwater Horizon exploded more than two years ago. It is attracting attention and added scrutiny.
"It can be intimidating for a regular person to just walk into a meeting by industry and by government," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "And so, this is a way to train people on how to use their voice."
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and others are forming a Citizens' Monitoring Group to keep tabs on Wednesday's sale.
"This is a very important event that will affect the public, public property," said Kristen Evans, who is helping to organize the Citizens' Monitoring Group. "The very effect of seeing and being seen, reminds government and industry, that they have responsibilities and that they are accountable to the public."
In addition, several environmental organizations are suing the federal government, in an attempt to stop the sale altogether, because of concerns about potential oil spills.
"We've drilled literally thousands and thousands of wells in the Gulf of Mexico and you can ask any fishermen out there how important the infrastructure is out there for fishing," said Don Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. "I expect environmentalists to do what they're going to do, but it's unjustified."
The sales demand is high in the Central Gulf, in part, because Congressman Steve Scalise said there is uncertainty about when the next sale will be.
"Just like in this case, we're expecting a whole lot of interest because it's been so long and it's also coupled by the fact that President Obama has still yet to release his five-year lease sale plan," said Rep. Scalise, R-Louisiana.
The oil and gas lease sale will take place at the Superdome on Wednesday, beginning at 9 a.m. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will be on hand to announce the results of the sale at noon.