Biden’s first—and maybe last—Gulf oil
sale draws big bids
Silhouette of oil rig at sunset
- Chevron among big buyers as oil companies race future fees
- Activists blame president for detonating ‘carbon bomb’ in Gulf
By Jennifer A. Dlouhy
Petroleumworld 11 18 2021
Oil companies spent $191.7 million buying drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, during a robust government auction that underscored the industry’s appetite for new crude as the White House seeks to shifts the U.S. away from fossil fuels.
Analysts said bidding was driven by interest in lower-carbon crude from the Gulf of Mexico as well as uncertainty about the timing and conditions of future sales, which are expected to come with higher fees and stringent requirements.
In total, 33 companies participated, lodging 317 bids for 308 tracts spanning 1.7 million acres (688,000 hectares), according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Not since 2014, when West Texas Intermediate crude was priced around $80 per barrel, have more leases been sold at a single Gulf auction, according to bureau data.
The auction brought in a bigger haul than most of the Gulf sales conducted under former President Donald Trump despite an unsuccessful push by climate activists seeking for its cancellation.
Nevertheless, the average bid fell to just $622,366 per lease, continuing a downward trend that may reflect oil industry unease amid a rapidly shifting climate and ESG landscape.
Industry enthusiasm was stoked by the relatively low carbon footprint of crude extracted from deep stretches of the Gulf of Mexico, in contrast to production from foreign basins and short-lived onshore wells. Top bidder Chevron Corp., which had $48.9 million in apparent winning bids, highlighted the low carbon footprint and high returns of deep-water exploration during its second-quarter earnings call.
Energy companies “want to produce oil from regions with a low carbon intensity,” said Erik Milito, head of the National Ocean Industries Association. “With its world class infrastructure and prospective resources, the Gulf of Mexico provides an incredible value proposition in society’s efforts to tackle climate change while preserving jobs and economic growth.”
The auction came against the backdrop of higher oil prices and inflation that have provoked concern at the White House. The leases sold Wednesday are unlikely to result in production for five to 10 years but could yield crude for decades.
Environmentalists blasted the administration’s decision to sell new drilling rights, just days after President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland highlighted the nation’s green credentials at the COP26 climate summit in Scotland. Although the auction was largely compelled by a federal district court ruling against Biden’s leasing pause in June, activists had argued the administration could assert other legal authorities to suspend the sale.
“Today’s lease sale is a black eye for the Biden administration,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director of the Center for Western Priorities. “After President Biden and Secretary Haaland traveled to Glasgow to assert America’s leadership on climate, they have now released a carbon bomb in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Wednesday’s auction, originally expected in March, was put off after Biden ordered a pause in the sale of new oil and gas leases on federal land so the Interior Department could conduct a comprehensive review of the activity. The department announced plans to hold the delayed sale only after a Louisiana-based federal district court ruled against the moratorium and in the face of a potential contempt of court citation.
It’s not clear whether -- or when -- another Gulf oil auction may happen, though two more sales had been penciled in by an Obama-era five-year leasing program that expires next June.
Any future sales also are likely to come with less-generous terms. Pending tax-and-spending legislation in the House of Representatives would impose new fees and higher royalty rates on offshore oil development that would be embedded in future lease terms.
Chevron and Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s Anadarko US Offshore LLC were the most aggressive bidders, with Anadarko lodging the two highest offers -- $10 million and $6 million -- for two tracts south of Louisiana.
“Chevron is pleased with the results of the sale and looks forward to further evaluating our leases’ potential,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Overall, Anadarko lodged $39.7 million in high bids, according to bureau data. Other active bidding came from Shell Offshore Inc., BP Exploration and Production Inc. and Talos Energy Offshore LLC.
Exxon Mobil Corp., was the apparent winner of 94 shallow-water leases near the Texas coastline, in an apparent step forward for its planned carbon-capture hub near Houston’s industrial corridor.
The bill proposed to lawmakers last month would cancel some electricity-generation permits granted to foreign operators and give priority to the aging hydro, nuclear and natural gas-fired plants run by state-owned power utility Comision Federal de Electricidad, or CFE.
Wind and solar projects would be pushed toward the bottom of the list, beating out only gas- and coal-fired generation from non-state providers. The bill seeks a constitutional guarantee that CFE holds 54% of the market compared with 38% currently.
Although non-state companies would maintain as much as 46% of the electricity market, current contracts are expected to be reviewed. As much as 15,000 megawatts of clean-energy generation are at stake, according to BloombergNEF.
Lopez Obrador swept into power promising to expand state control of Mexico’s energy by dialing back previous market-friendly reforms. He has come under fire from renewable-energy companies and environmental groups for pushing a fossil fuels-heavy agenda at a time when other nations are working to curb emissions.
Foreign companies have invested heavily in Mexico since its electricity market was opened to private investment in 2013 and 2014.
Renewable-energy lobbyists have warned the proposed changes could undermine pledges Mexico made under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Getting the bill passed won’t be easy and will require AMLO’s ruling Morena party and legislative allies to win over opposition lawmakers to gain the two-thirds majority needed for approval in both chambers. The measure also requires passage by a majority of state legislatures.
The current congressional session ends in mid-December, leaving lawmakers just a few weeks to hammer out the details of any deal. Federal and state-level legislators are expected to fully vote on the bill by mid-April, according to Ignacio Mier, leader of Morena in the lower house.
CFE’s bonds declined, indicating that investors aren’t expecting the bill to obtain final approval. Political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group gives the measure just a 30% chance of passage.
Still, officials from the opposition PRI party have told Bloomberg there is a possibility it may succeed after their own leadership said they want to debate the measure and not reject it outright.
By Jennifer A. Dlouhy from Bloomberg News
bloomberg.com 11 17 2021