Oil and Gas

Four arrested in protest against federal oil lease sales

by Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press

Facebook/Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Four protesters opposed to federal oil lease sales were arrested Tuesday at the suburban New Orleans building where the leasing agency has offices, an attorney said.

The four were among about a dozen protesters who walked to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management office building with a copy of an online petition they said had garnered 184,000 electronic signatures in six days. They want an end to all new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We are not just selling the Gulf. We are selling our children's future," said Renate Heurich, a retired teacher in suburban Jefferson Parish. "We are refusing to change our lifestyle and our children will have to deal with immense problems once the climate gets more and more extreme."

After about an hour, one protest was allowed inside to deliver the petition to an agency official. The employee, who wouldn't give his name or position, later came outside to tell the group their petition would "go on up the chain of command."

He also said the building is privately owned and the protesters would have to stay outside its fence or face arrest for trespassing — a message repeated by Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Capt. Danny Somrow.

William Quigley, an attorney who wore a tag identifying him as a legal observer, explained the likely legal ramifications of arrest to the protesters.

The four he identified as having been arrested had said earlier that they would stay until they got a response from President Barak Obama — or until they were arrested. The president was visiting the Baton Rouge area Tuesday to survey flood damage.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has scheduled a lease sale Wednesday for 23.5 million acres off of Texas. Unlike all previous lease sales, it will be livestreamed, but the site in New Orleans where bids are read will be closed to the public.

Protests that disrupted an oil and gas sale in March and an April federal open house about environmental impacts of continued lease sales played a part in that decision, agency spokeswoman Caryl Fagot said Monday.

"But we had been looking at ways to modernize holding the sale to broaden our audience by being able to provide it to everyone ... rather than having to come physically to the sale," she said.

Wednesday's sale will be the first federal offshore oil and gas auction broadcast live on the internet, according to a news release from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Last year's sale was the smallest ever for the western Gulf. Five companies bid on 33 tracts for a total of $22.7 million in high bids. Each tract drew one bid.