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DOI seeks insight for new OCS lease plan

By  Thursday, 29 June 2017 20:28

The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) is taking its first step in fulfilling the Trump administration’s pledge to expand Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing opportunities by submitting a request for information (RFI) to create a new 2017-2022 offshore lease plan.

Source: BOEM

The RFI is part of Trump’s Executive Order 13795, which lifted bans on offshore oil and gas exploration and production in the Arctic and Atlantic, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s DOI Order 3350. The latter called for enhancing OCS energy exploration, leasing, and development, establishing regulatory certainty for OCS activities, and enhancing conservation stewardship. This included creating a new 2017-2022 leasing plan and reconsidering regulations that could impede expanded activity.

The RFI seeks information on what should be included in the new program the Trump administration will design to replace the current 2017-2022 program. That program, created by the Obama administration, left many areas with significant oil and gas resources off-limits to exploration and production, said Vincent DeVito, Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, during a conference call with reporters today (29 June).

 “We need to grow business, not hold it back,” said Katharine MacGregor, acting assistant secretary, Land & Minerals Management, during the call.

The RFI is scheduled for publication on 3 July in the Federal Register, which will start the 45-day public comment period. Through the RFI, the Trump administration seeksa wide array of input, including 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.

MacGregor said that 26 OCS planning areas will be “intensely examined” for possible inclusion in the five-year plan, including the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and the Atlantic OCS planning region off the eastern US.

The intent of the RFI is to “look at all regions with fresh set of eyes to see where we can expand offshore development,” DeVito commented.

On average, the previous presidential administration took two to three years to finalize two-five year offshore plans. But DeVito said DOI believes that, by simplifying and streamlining the process where possible, the timeline for finalizing the new plan could be shortened.

“We will find ways to achieve greater efficiency, but we won’t cut corners on environmental analysis,” DeVito commented.

When asked about possible legal challenges to Trump revoking offshore drilling plans put in place by former President Obama, DeVito said that DOI will take every step necessary to mitigate the threat of litigation. However, “it’s our responsibility to move forward with this administration’s priorities. The threat doesn’t drive the agenda.”

In the past, the U.S. Navy’s offshore exercises have posed an obstacle to leasing plans. But MacGregor said DOI has and will continue to work closely with the navy to ensure no leasing occurs without being deconflicted. With some spite specific stipulations, a great percentage of the Atlantic OCS region is viable for leasing, MacGregor added.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard praised the announcement, adding that the U.S. oil and natural gas industry has a long history of safe operations that have strengthened U.S. energy security and contributed significantly to our nation’s economy.

“It’s important that the next five-year plan includes the ability to explore our resources in the Arctic, Atlantic, and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which would spur investment and economic activity, could create thousands of jobs, and provide billions in government revenue,” Gerard commented.

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) also welcomed the RFI, calling the Obama administration’s 2017-2022 OCS plan “one of the most energy damming actions” taken in the last few years. As a result, 94% of US offshore areas are closed to any and all exploration for new sources of oil and natural gas, NOIA President Randall Luthi said in a 29 June press statement. DOI “now has the opportunity to begin the process to change that precedent and unleash more American energy.”

Luthi also pointed out that the RFI will launch a multi-year process that will involve participation from shareholders, including local communities. It also will determine a future leasing schedule, nota future drilling schedule.  Future decisions on possible drilling must undergo their own series of public and environmental reviews. 

“Similarly, any future efforts to actually produce offshore oil and natural gas will be subject to yet another round of similar review.  Today’s conversation is about assessing our options going forward, not about making any final decisions,” Luthi said.

The RFI’s announcement comes during “Energy Week”, in which the White House has focused on delivering its message of American “Energy Dominance.” This not only includes expanded offshore exploration and production, but the United States’ role as an energy exporter.

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