Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale

New Orleans, La. - Local oil industry executives are excited while environmentalists are concerned as scores of oil drillers turn out to bid tens of millions of dollars for the right to drill in a part of the Gulf that's been shut down since the massive BP oil spill.

It was by no means a record turnout for Wednesday's lease sale in the central Gulf, but officials were pleased with a strong turnout.

They hope this leads to normal levels of employment in an industry that took a big hit after the BP spill. There has been no new drilling in the central Gulf since May of 2010.

That was when the Macondo well caught fire and collapsed, killing 11 men. It also sent an estimated five million barrels of oil into the Gulf, some of which still soils the coast.

The massive oil release was blamed on a failed blowout preventer, which has been the focus of an intensive investigation.

Energy officials say that steps have been taken to improve the performance of BOP's, but they couldn't give too many specifics, which is troubling to some environmentalists who were on hand at the lease sale.

Wednesday's lease sale could open up 39 million acres of the central Gulf to new drilling; some wells in waters of up to 11,000 feet. That's twice as deep as the BP's failed Macondo well.

BP was the leading bidder for first lucrative lease in an area of the central Gulf called Walker Ridge.