The Interior Department plans to once again open the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) to all comers in the next oil and gas auction, which is set for March.

Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is proposing to offer 78 million acres in the regionwide Lease Sale 254. The auction would include 14,585 unleased blocks, from three to 231 miles offshore, in the Western, Central and Eastern planning areas in water depths of nine feet to more than 11,115 feet.

“Offshore energy development is about furthering America’s energy security, ensuring fair market value to the taxpayers and producing domestic energy in an environmentally responsible manner,” said Interior’s Acting Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond, who oversees Land and Minerals Management.

The GOM’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), covering about 160 million acres, is estimated to contain around 141 Tcf of undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas and 48 billion bbl of oil still to be discovered.

The lease sale, scheduled to be live streamed from New Orleans, would be the sixth offshore sale under Interior’s 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Ten lease sales are scheduled under the current program, with two auctions/year. Excluded from the sale are blocks subject to Congressional moratorium and blocks within the current boundaries of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Fiscal terms include a 12.5% royalty rate for leases in water less than 200 meters deep and 18.75% for deeper water leases. Lease revenue is directed to the U.S. Treasury, as well as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Some revenue also is directed to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and and the Historic Preservation Fund.

BOEM has provided all of the terms and conditions for the sale in an information package. Copies of the proposed sale maps may be requested from the GOM Region’s Public Information Unit at 1201 Elmwood Park Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70123, or at (800) 200-4853.

The fifth regionwide auction in the current OCS leasing plan, Lease Sale 253, held in August, attracted only 165 bids total for 151 blocks from 27 operators of the total 14,585 blocks on offer. Total bids came in at $174.92 million, with combined high bids of $159.39 million. Of the blocks receiving bids, 117 were in water more than 2,625 feet deep.