for sale

Houston oil companies offer $382M for drilling rights in Gulf of Mexico in last offshore sale before 2025

Companies including Houston-based Chevron and Hess and BP, each with a Houston presence, offered bids. Photo via Getty Images

Last month, oil companies offered $382 million for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday after courts rejected the Biden administration's plans to scale back the sale to protect an endangered whale species.

The auction was the last of several offshore oil and gas lease sales mandated under the 2022 climate law. It comes as President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration tries to navigate between energy companies seeking greater oil and gas production and environmental activists who want to stop new drilling to help combat climate change.

Companies including Houston-based Chevron and Hess and BP, each with a Houston presence, offered bids on more than 300 parcels covering 2,700 square miles (7,000 square kilometers), according to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The dollar amount of the successful bids marked a sharp increase from the previous sale in March 2023, when the Interior Department awarded leases covering about 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometers) for $250 million.

The next sale will be conducted in 2025, to the frustration of energy companies and Republicans who say the administration is hampering U.S. oil production.

Wednesday's online auction was originally scheduled for September but got delayed by a court battle after the administration reduced the area available for leases from 73 million acres (30 million hectares) to 67 million acres (27 million hectares) as part of a plan to protect the endangered Rice’s whale.

Chevron, Shell Offshore, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of Louisiana sued to reverse the cut in acreage and block the inclusion of the whale-protecting measures in the lease sale provisions.

A federal judge in southwest Louisiana ordered the sale to go on without the whale protections, which also included regulations governing vessel speed and personnel. Environmental groups appealed, but the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last month rejected their arguments against the sale and threw out the plans to scale it back.

The lease sale was required under a compromise with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a supporter of the oil and gas industry who cast the deciding vote in favor of the landmark climate law. The measure was approved with only Democratic votes in Congress. Under the terms negotiated by Manchin, the government must offer at least 60 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases in any one-year period before it can offer offshore wind leases that are part of its strategy to fight climate change.

Only a small portion of parcels that are offered for sale typically receive bids, in areas where companies want to expand their existing drilling activities or where they foresee future development potential.

The administration in September proposed up to three oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years and none in Alaska waters. That was the minimum number the administration could legally offer if it wants to continue expanding offshore wind development.

Environmental groups criticized the five-year plan as a “missed opportunity” to stop the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and address climate change.

“New oil and gas operations (in the Gulf) will only bring more health risks to Gulf Coast communities and slow our transition to a clean-energy economy,'' said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy.

The industry, meanwhile, said more sales are needed — and sooner.

“In our forward-thinking industry, securing new lease blocks is vital for exploring and developing resources crucial to the U.S. economy,'' said National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito. “The Gulf of Mexico is a prime economic engine and investment area, and this (lease sale) was the last chance for companies to secure leases in the near term.''

Holly Hopkins, API vice president of upstream policy, called Wednesday's sale "a "positive step after multiple delays,'' and noted that it generated the highest dollar value for bids in nearly a decade.

The results demonstrate that the oil and gas industry “is working to meet growing demand and investing in the nation’s long-term energy security,'' Hopkins said. “Just as today’s record U.S. production was supported by investment and policy decisions made years ago, new leasing opportunities are critical for maintaining American energy leadership for decades to come.''

The administration's clean-energy ambitions have been hampered by recent project cancellations including two large wind projects shelved last month off the New Jersey coast and the earlier cancellation of three projects that would have sent power to New England.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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