The Department of the Interior is asking oil and gas companies if they are interested in an oil and gas lease sale in the Shelikof Strait.

The request comes as the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas holds a state sale of leases on the Alaska Peninsula.

The Shelikof Strait is part of the Interior department’s Cook Inlet Planning Area, which includes all water more than 3 miles offshore and between 57 degrees north latitude and the Kalgin Islands in Cook Inlet.

The department’s announcement isn’t an outright request for bids. Instead, it asks whether there is enough interest for a formal lease sale.

“This is the first step in a careful process designed both to gauge industry interest in oil and gas exploration in the Cook Inlet Planning Area, and to develop information about the potential effects of that activity,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Tommy P. Beaudreau in a statement. “Through this process, BOEM will consider a range of important factors including industry interest, resource potential, and the need to protect and respect Alaska’s communities and unique environments.”

A decision on oil and gas lease sales in the Shelikof Strait is not likely before late 2013, and public comments on the sale can be submitted to until May 11.

This proposal is only the latest to concern the Cook Inlet Planning Area, which has seen five lease sales since 1977. The last two sales scheduled for the area were to take place in 2008 and 2011 but were canceled for lack of interest.

The last successful lease sale took place in 1997, when an energy company bid on 4,000 acres in the Seldovia area.

There are no active federal leases in the Cook Inlet Planning Area, but BOEM estimates the region contains 1 billion recoverable barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas.

As North Slope production declines, oil and gas producers have become more interested in exploring nontraditional areas, driving a resurgence in northern and central Cook Inlet drilling.

That interest has also driven the state to open lease sales for much of the northern Alaska Peninsula.

Temporary and permanent drill structures are forbidden in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve and other critical areas, but much of Bristol Bay’s eastern shore is open for leasing.

Bristol Bay has become embroiled in development controversy as the Pebble Mine project advances in its watershed.

Previous Alaska Peninsula leases have received little response — no bids were received in 2010 or 2011 — and the state considers the area’s petroleum potential as “low to moderate,” according to state documents.

Bids on Alaska Peninsula leases will be opened May 16 in Anchorage.

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