By Kristen Hays
HOUSTON, March 20 (Reuters) - Norway's Statoil submitted the highest single bid on Wednesday in the latest federal auction of drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico, while Royal Dutch Shell put in the top sum of high bids.
The sale drew $1.2 billion in high bids for tracts in the central Gulf. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said 52 companies submitted 407 bids on 320 tracts.
BP Plc, the largest leaseholder in the Gulf, did not participate in Wednesday's sale. Last November the U.S. government banned BP from new federal contracts over integrity issues in the aftermath of its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf.
The suspension bars BP from new contracts until the company can demonstrate that it can meet federal business standards.
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement on Wednesday that given the uncertainty of the suspension and debarment of some BP businesses, the company decided not to participate in Wednesday's lease sale.
"We hope we can reach a reasonable resolution with regulators" so BP "can once again enter into new contracts with the U.S. government," Morrell said.
Statoil bid $81.9 million on a tract more than 200 miles south of the Louisiana coastline in an area known as Walker Ridge, which has been attracting more interest from producers after appraisal wells show potentially huge oil finds.
This week Anadarko Petroleum Corp said its Shenandoah-2 appraisal well in the Walker Ridge area showed that the reservoir could hold double or triple its initial estimates, according to analysts.
Statoil's high bid secured the tract it was after. The company said it was awarded 14 other leases in Wednesday's sale.
Shell, the top oil producer in the Gulf, submitted the most high bids - 38 - for $139.8 million, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Anadarko was second with 30 bids for $42 million.