The Interior Dept. has proposed 15 lease sales for offshore oil and gas drilling over the 2012-17 period, including 12 potential leases at locations in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska.

Expanded energy exploration could provide opportunities for engineering and construction companies, both at offshore sites and at nearby, on-shore locations.

The proposal, which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Nov. 8, drew criticism from advocates and opponents of expanded oil and gas development.

Drilling advocates, such as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), faulted the Interior for failing to open up new areas for oil and gas exploration.

Environmental groups also blasted the proposal, particularly for including offshore Alaska areas, contending the drilling could cause potential ecological damage there.

Salazar said in a conference call with reporters that the plan “will allow for development of more than 75% of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources“ on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Interior’s Bureau of Energy Management, said the proposal strikes “the appropriate balance between the benefits of resource development—including the economic and employment benefits—[and] the imperatives of environmental protection.”

Beaudreau added, "[The program] is a tailored, region-specific approach to leasing, which is a break from the historical one-size-fits-all approach.”