(Reuters) – The U.S. Interior Department intends to temporarily recall some workers furloughed by the partial federal government shutdown to prepare an upcoming Gulf of Mexico oil lease sale, using funds left over from last year, according to a department document.
The move would add to the administration’s push on its energy portfolio despite the partial shutdown triggered last month by President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign funding legislation that excludes money for his proposed border wall with Mexico.
“If the lapse in appropriations extends past January 15, additional personnel will be designated as exempt to complete work to publish Proposed Notice for Gulf of Mexico Sale 253 and Final Notice of Sale and Record of Decision for Gulf of Mexico Sale 252,” Interior said in its shutdown contingency plan.
“These employees will be designated as exempt for only the amount of time needed to complete this work. They will be funded through carryover,” it said.
The Interior Department’s Sale 252 is scheduled for March, and will offer some 78 million acres (31.5 million hectares)
across the Gulf of Mexico region. Recent lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico have drawn relatively weak interest from oil and gas drillers doing well in lower-cost onshore plays, despite the administration’s efforts to pump up the region with lower royalty rates.
The Interior Department is already keeping some personnel working on other energy efforts it says are exempted from the shutdown, including the Trump administration’s push for the expansion of oil drilling on sensitive, federally owned lands in Arctic Alaska.
Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Peter Cooney