* November lease sale includes 400 tracts
* Obama, Romney have sparred on U.S. oil output
* Prior lease sale raised $3.6 mln in winning bids
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 The Interior Department said
Thursday it plans to offer up 4.5 million acres of Arctic land
for oil and gas production next month, as the Obama
administration's energy policies face more scrutiny ahead of the
The Nov. 7 lease sale, a day after the presidential
election, will include 400 tracts in the National Petroleum
Reserve-Alaska, an area set aside by the government for oil and
U.S. President Barack Obama is locked in a tight election
battle against Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has
accused Obama of stifling domestic oil output.
A presidential debate earlier this week featured heated
exchanges between the two candidates over energy issues, with
Obama defending the amount of drilling that has occurred on
federal land under his watch.
"The November sale is in line with the President's direction
to continue to expand domestic energy production, safely and
responsibly," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a
U.S. oil production is at its most in 17 years, but critics
of the administration say much of that growth has come from
The Obama administration contends that while output on
federal lands has dropped following the 2010 BP oil spill,
production from public lands is still up compared with pre-2008
levels, before Obama took office.
Obama ordered the Interior Department to begin holding
annual lease sales in the Alaska reserve in 2011, after U.S.
gasoline prices spiked.
Last year, the department auctioned 3 million acres in the
reserve, earning $3.6 million in winning bids.
While the reserve was established in 1923 as a source of
petroleum for the nation's military, there has never been
commercial production from the area.
Recent oil discoveries may change this, however, with
ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum looking to
produce oil from a field in the reserve.
This summer, the Interior Department issued a proposal that
would allow drilling on only 11.8 million acres in the 23-
The move was lauded by environmentalists for its protection
of wildlife, but angered oil and gas drilling supporters, who
felt the plan was too restrictive.