* Lease sale Nov. 28 for areas off the Texas coast
* Gulf oil spill in 2010 prompted new drilling rules
WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department said Thursday it plans to offer about 20 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas production next month, as the Obama administration’s energy policies face more scrutiny ahead of national elections in two weeks.
The Nov. 28 lease sale, three weeks after the presidential election, will involve terrain off the Texas coast and is the first auction held under the administration’s 2012 through 2017 leasing plan.
Officials said that the sale, combined with two sales in the Gulf of similar scope in the last 12 months, were meant to strengthen the country’s energy security.
“Exploration and development of our Western Gulf’s vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama is locked in a tight election battle against Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has said federal rules for oil exploration are too cumbersome.
U.S. oil production is at its most in 17 years, but critics of the administration say much of that growth has come from private lands.
The Obama administration issued a raft of new drilling rules following the Deepwater Horizon spill that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil until it was capped in September 2010.
While oil and gas companies have been drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for decades, industry groups have been clamoring for access to drill off the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
These areas were off limits until a congressional moratorium was lifted in 2008. The Obama administration considered allowing lease sales off the Atlantic coast, but withdrew those plans after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
U.S. congressman Doc Hastings, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, blasted the administration for not opening any new areas.
Hastings said the November lease sale was offering virtually the same areas offered in a sale last December.
“At a time when increased offshore energy production in new areas could create thousands of jobs, President Obama is keeping 85 percent of America’s offshore under lock and key,” he said in a statement.