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The Associated Press: Offshore oil bids highest in eight years; Louisiana still unhappy

NEW ORLEANS — Bidders largely ignored court challenges to additional petroleum drilling off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana and made $340.9 million in high bids for 381 offshore tracts.

The bid total was the highest in eight years for the federal government’s annual sale of exploration leases in the western Gulf of Mexico. In last year’s sale, the Minerals Management Service accepted $283.4 million on 342 tracts.

Foreign-owned companies were among the top bidders.

Petrobras America Inc., a subsidiary of the Brazilian national oil company Petrobas and a major player in Gulf lease sales since 2004, was the highest total buyer, putting in 34 winning bids valued at $45.5 million.

BP Exploration & Production Inc., a subsidiary of BP PLC, followed with 31 winning bids totaling $37.5 million, while Shell Offshore Inc., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, put up 28 winning bids worth $35.4 million.

Despite a lawsuit filed by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to halt the sale, no bids were withdrawn ahead of Wednesday’s auction, said Chris Oynes, MMS regional director for Gulf operations.

Blanco, as part of a campaign to get a bigger share of federal offshore royalties for Louisiana, filed a lawsuit claiming MMS has not done enough to protect Louisiana wetlands from damage due to drilling. She sought an order blocking Wednesday’s sale.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt on Monday refused to block the sale, but said the state would have a strong case when the dispute goes to trial in November.

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