Gulf of Mexico oil lease sale: Up from 2016, down from 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Oil companies have offered $274.8 million for this year's central Gulf of Mexico oil leases, more than last year but only about half the amount bid in 2015.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Wednesday that 28 companies bid on 163 tracts off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Last year, 26 companies made $156 million in high bids on 128 tracts in the central gulf. Wednesday's high bids totaled about 51 percent of the $539.8 million in high bids offered by 35 companies for 169 blocks in that area in March 2015.

In a news release, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Wednesday's auction a strong sale reflecting industry optimism and interest in the Gulf's outer continental shelf.

Gulfwide sales will begin in August.