The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Tuesday announced that it will hold an oil and natural gas auction on Nov. 7 in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), its second in less than a year, offering producers 400 tracts and an estimated 4.5 million acres to explore.

This would be the eighth oil and gas lease sale in the NPR-A since 1999, according to the BLM. Last December BLM offered three million acres for sale in the NPR-A that generated bids totaling more than $3.6 million (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9, 2011).

To date, only exploratory drilling since 1999 has occurred within the NPR-A, although last year permits were issued to ConocoPhillips to allow for future oil and gas production. Currently there are 186 authorized oil and gas leases totaling 1,481,092 acres within the planning areas of the NPR-A, the BLM said.

In August, the Obama administration released a proposal that would make only 48% of the reserve's 11 million acres available for leasing (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14). It designated extensive areas around Lake Teshepuk as being unavailable for leasing, which triggered considerable criticism from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Repbulican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"The environmentally sensitive Teshepuk Lake area was already under a 10-year deferral for additional study, but this alternative goes vastly beyond that, putting half of the petroleum reserve off limits...This decision endangers not only further exploration of the NPR-A, but also development of existing offshore leases in the Chukchi Sea," Murkowski said.

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