A proposal to have over 90 percent of the total acreage in the Outer Continental Shelf available for oil and gas exploration and development was announced January 4, by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as part of the development of the 2019-2024 National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
The current program includes 2,900 active OCS leases, of which the vast majority are in the Gulf of Mexico. The draft proposed program provides for 47 potential lease sales, with 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic region.
In a statement about the proposed plan, Zinke 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.”
The first step in the years-long process to replace the current five-year program was a request for information from DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that was published in the 7/3/17 Federal Register. The move followed an executive order issued by President Trump on 4/28/17, that instructed DOI to consider revising the current leasing program.
Zinke noted that, the “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 January 4 announcement explained the next steps in the process, which include having the BOEM prepare a proposed program, which will be published for public comment, followed by a proposed final program, while at the same time Interior will prepare a draft programmatic environmental impact statement to be published concurrently with the proposed program, and a final EIS to be published concurrently with the proposed final program.
The energy industry responded with praise for the proposed plan. American Petroleum Institute Upstream Director Erik Milito said in a statement that API welcomes the proposed plan and “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.”
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) noted that it has been a long-time advocate of including the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic, and Alaska’s waters in any plan for offshore oil and gas exploration. “Expanding access to additional offshore reserves allows the United States to better understand where production potential exists and where capital should be invested,” said IPAA Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Dan Naatz in a statement.
Several East Coast governors are opposed to the proposed plan, including Florida Governor Rick Scott, who tweeted after the announcement was made, “I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”
“Offshore drilling represents a critical threat to our coastal economy. Protecting North Carolina families and businesses is my top priority, and we will pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina’s beaches, coastal communities, and fishing waters,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in a statement about the proposed plan.
By Denise Ryan DRyan@fosterreport.com
 82 Fed. Reg. 30,886.