The U.S. administration has moved to open up almost the entire offshore continental shelf for oil and gas exploration and production.
The proposed action announced on Thursday by the Interior secretary Ryan Zinke, will, if approved, see over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.
This would fall under the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024.
By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history, the Department of Interior said.
“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Secretary Zinke.
“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” he said.
The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s 5-year lease schedule.
Inclusion of an area in the DPP is not a final indication that it will be included in the approved Program or offered in a lease sale, because many decision points still remain. By proposing to open these areas for consideration, the Secretary ensures that he will receive public input and analysis on all of the available OCS to better inform future decisions on the National OCS
Program. Prior to any individual lease sale in the future, BOEM will continue to incorporate new scientific information and stakeholder feedback in its reviews to further refine the geographic scope of the lease areas.
“American energy production can be competitive while remaining safe and environmentally sound,” said Acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank. “Public input is a crucial part of this process, and we hope to hear from industry groups, elected officials, other government agencies, concerned citizens and others as we move forward with developing the 2019-2024 National OCS Program.”
Once the draft proposed program is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will follow. BOEM will conduct public meetings with local stakeholders across the country, including in Alaska, beginning on January 16.
Gulf of Mexico:
The DPP includes 12 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most productive basins in the world and where oil and gas infrastructure is well established. The draft proposal continues the current approach to lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico by proposing 10 biannual lease sales in those areas of the Western, Central, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico that are not subject to Congressional moratorium or otherwise unavailable, and two sales in the portions of the Eastern and Central Gulf of Mexico after the expiration of the Congressional moratorium in 2022. This is the first time the majority of the Eastern GOM Planning Area would be available for leasing since 1988.
The DPP proposes 7 lease sales in the Pacific Region (2 each for Northern California, Central California, and Southern California, and 1 for Washington/Oregon). There have been no sales in the Pacific Region since 1984. Currently there are 43 leases in producing status in the Southern California Planning Area.
The DPP proposes 9 lease sales in the Atlantic Region (3 sales each for the Mid- and South Atlantic, 2 for the North Atlantic, and 1 for the Straits of Florida). There have been no sales in the Atlantic since 1983 and there are no existing leases.
The DPP proposes 19 lease sales in the Alaska Region (3 in the Chukchi Sea, 3 in the Beaufort Sea, 2 in Cook Inlet, and 1 sale each in 11 other program areas in Alaska). These 11 program areas consist of the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak, Shumagin, Aleutian Arc, St. George Basin, Bowers Basin, Aleutian Basin, Navarin Basin, St. Matthew-Hall, Norton Basin, and Hope Basin. No sales are proposed in the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that has been under Presidential withdrawal since December 2014.