The US Department of the Interior has opened its new five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore oil and gas leasing plan to public comment, the agency announced on 13 June 2014.
DOI said the publication in the federal register of the 2017-2022 OCS leasing program (RFI) begins a 45-day public comment period. BOEM will evaluate all of the OCS planning areas during this first stage. Substantial public involvement and extensive analysis will accompany all stages of the planning process, which will take up to three years to complete, BOEM said.
“The development of the next five-year program will be a thorough and open process that incorporates stakeholder input and uses the best available science to develop a proposed offshore oil and gas program that creates jobs and safely and responsibly meets the energy needs of the nation,” said DOI Secretary Sally Jewell. “Today marks the first step of engaging interested parties across the spectrum to balance the various uses and values inherent in managing the resources of federal offshore waters that belong to all Americans and future generations.”
The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), an industry organization that has been critical of the current five-year plan, called the new RFI, "a long anticipated first step towards what could mean more jobs, energy and revenue."
"The current five-year program that expires in 2017 included no new access, and has put the US far behind many other nations that are actively pursuing offshore oil and natural gas energy development," said Randall Luthi, NOIA's President. Luthi explains, saying that 87% of the OCS has been off limits for decades to even geophysical and geological surveys, let alone exploratory drilling. "Today’s action is a crucial, but still only a first, step in truly adopting an all the above energy policy."
BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank said in issuing the RFI, the agency does not propose to schedule sales in particular areas, nor will it make any preliminary decisions on what will be included on the schedule. “The RFI provides an opportunity for interested parties to submit comments and suggestions about the potential for leasing and to identify environmental and other concerns and uses that may be affected by offshore leasing," he said.
BOEM is seeking comments that include information on the economic, social and environmental values of all OCS resources, as well as the potential impact of oil and gas exploration and development on other resource values of the OCS and the marine, coastal and human environments.
The current five-year program for 2012–2017, which expires August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75% of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters. BOEM has held five sales, including annual auctions in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and a single sale in the portion of the Eastern Gulf not subject to the congressional moratorium.
These five auctions offered more than 60 million offshore acres and leased 4.3 million of those, generating more than US$2.3 billion in high bids. The sixth lease sale in August 2014 will offer 21 million OCS acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico. Off Alaska, the current five-year program includes one potential sale each for the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet planning areas.
BOEM will accept comments until 30 July 2014. Those who wish to comment can do so online at BOEM.gov, or through mail, addressed to Ms. Kelly Hammerle, Five Year Program Manager; Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; 381 Elden Street - HM-3120; Herndon, Virginia 20170.
Image: Sally Jewell/US Department of the Interior