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Zinke to open 90% of US offshore to exploration

Karen Boman Thursday, 04 January 2018 19:32

US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unveiled a draft proposed program (DPP) for offshore oil and gas leasing for 2019-2024 will make available over 90% of US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) acreage, and more than 98% of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas, available for future exploration and development.


The DPP, released today (4 January), includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas; 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s 5-year lease schedule, Zinke said.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the OCS 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 Zinke in the Interior Department (DOI)'s announcement.

Zinke said that the draft will start 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," he said.

Over 800,000 comments from state governments, federal agencies, public interest groups, industry and the public were considered in the drafting of the proposal. The public also will have additional opportunities to comment before the program is finalized. The existing 2017-2022 program will continue as implemented under the new national OCS program is approved.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the draft proposal will continue the current approach to lease sales, with 10 biannual lease sales proposed in the Western, Central and Eastern Gulf not subject to Congressional moratorium or otherwise unavailable. Two sales for the parts of the Eastern and Central currently under Congressional moratorium until 2022 also are planned, the first time that most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico planning area would be available for leasing since 1988.

Offshore Alaska, three lease sales in the Chukchi Sea, three in the Beaufort Sea, two in Cook Inlet, and one sale each in 11 other program areas will be offered. These other areas include 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.

In the Atlantic, three lease sales each are proposed for the Mid- and South Atlantic regions, two in the North Atlantic, and one for the Straits of Florida. No existing leases are in the Atlantic, and no sales have occurred there since 1983. In the Pacific, two lease sales each are proposed for offshore northern California, central California, and southern California, and one offshore Washington/Oregon. Forty-three leases off southern California produce oil and gas; no lease sales have been held for the Pacific since 1984.

DOI also is publishing a notice of intent to prepare a draft programmatic environmental impact statement in conjunction with the DPP’s release.

The new leasing plan is part of the Trump administration’s America First Offshore Energy Strategy. In April, Trump issued Executive Order 13795, which outlined that strategy. Key to this strategy is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s development of a new offshore leasing program development process to replace the 2017-2022 program.

The proposal has been cheered by industry advocate groups.

With 94% of the OCS currently and unnecessarily off limits to oil and gas leasing and exploration, National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said, in response to today's DPP, that global energy demand is expected to increase by 28% by 2040 and traditional energy sources, including oil and gas, are projected to meet about 77% of the demand.

“The energy resources on the OCS are vital to the nation’s economic prosperity, and polls have repeatedly shown that most Americans want more energy to be produced domestically, including looking for more oil and natural gas resources off our shores,” Luthi said. “Yet, the US has severely restricted oil and gas exploration off our shores, even as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Norway, Russia and countries in Africa are actively exploring their own offshore areas.” 

Luthi added that the DPP is the second step in a multi-year process to determine a future leasing schedule, not a drilling schedule, adding that future decisions on possible drilling will undergo a separate series of public and environmental reviews.

Expanding access to additional offshore reserves would allow the US to better understand where production potential exists, and where capital should be invested, said Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

“The oil and natural gas industry has the experience and advanced technology to develop the nation’s offshore energy safely. We are continuously developing and improving safety standards, programs, new technologies, and best practices to protect our workers, the environment and marine life,” said Erik Milito, upstream director of the American Petroleum Institute. “And decades of experience have shown that offshore operations safely coexist with military activity, the commercial and recreational fishing industries, and coastal tourism.”

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US to increase OCS drilling

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