NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A nearly 39 million-acre oil and gas lease sale Wednesday for the central Gulf of Mexico drew $1.2 billion in high bids by offshore energy producers.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said 52 companies submitted 407 bids on 320 tracts, three to 230 miles off the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The tracts, covering more than 1.7 million acres, are in water depths of nine to more than 11,115 feet.

"Today's sale reflects strong, continuing industry interest in the Gulf of Mexico," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who opened the sale. "Developing public energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico is good for the Gulf's economy, and reflects President (Barack) Obama's commitment to expand oil and natural gas production safely and responsibly, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and supporting American energy jobs."

BOEM estimates the sale could lead to the production of up to 890 million barrels of oil and 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The sum of all bids received totaled $1.5 billion.

The sale builds on a number of recent offshore lease sales, including one last November in the western Gulf that made more than 20 million acres available, and a sale last June in the central Gulf that made more than 39 million acres available. It's also the second under the Obama Administration's new Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and the first of that program's five scheduled sales in the central Gulf.

Salazar's office, in a statement after the sale, said domestic oil and gas production has grown each year Obama has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in two decades and natural gas production at its highest level ever.

"The central Gulf of Mexico is one of the cornerstones of the United States' domestic energy portfolio and is central to meeting the nation's energy needs and fueling the economy," said BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau, who is also acting assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

After the sale, Salazar visited Louisiana's Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to see the progress of a marsh restoration project.

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