Time to Comment on Offshore Ocean Drilling is Now

Jul 05, 2017

At an Energy Week event hosted by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, President Donald Trump announced that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has taken action to open up the public comment period for a new five-year National Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program on the Outer Continental Shelf that will take effect two years ahead of schedule.

The comment period is the first step in executing a new five-year plan created by Trump’s April 28 executive order titled “America First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

On Jan. 17, 2017, the Obama administration approved the National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022, to be effective mid-2017, scheduling 10 potential lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Cook Inlet, offshore Alaska but excluding the Arctic and the Mid- and South Atlantic.

In order to consider leasing in areas other than those in the approved program, Section 18(e) requires that a new National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program be developed, and the Department of the Interior is initiating the process to develop a program that could include Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Ocean drilling.

The already approved 2017-2022 program will remain in effect until the new National OCS Program is complete.

“Developing a new National Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program that respects environmental and economic sensitivities but still allows us to responsibly develop our resources is critical to reaching President Trump’s goal of American energy dominance,” said Zinke. “Offering more areas for energy exploration and responsible development was a cornerstone of the president’s campaign, and this action is the first step in making good on that promise for offshore oil and gas.”

The July 3 publication of the RFI in the Federal Register begins the 45-day public comment period. Substantial public involvement and extensive analysis will accompany all stages of the planning process, which generally takes two to three years to complete. The notice was to be on display in the Federal Register public reading room as of Friday, June 30.

“Under the last administration, 94 percent of the OCS was off-limits to responsible development, despite interest from state and local governments and industry leaders,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor. “The Trump administration is dedicated to energy dominance, growing the economy and giving the public a say in how our natural resources are used, and that’s exactly what we are doing by opening up the Request For Information and a new five-year plan.​”

“Our country has a massive energy economy and we should absolutely wear it on our sleeves, rather than keep energy resources in the ground,” said Vincent DeVito, counselor to the secretary of the interior for energy policy. “This work will encourage responsible energy exploration and production, in order to advance the United States’ position as a global energy force and foster security for the benefit of the American citizenry.”

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the secretary of the interior, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, to prepare and maintain a schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales in federal waters, indicating the size, timing and location of auctions that would best meet national energy needs for the five-year period following its approval.

The secretary is required to achieve an appropriate balance among the potential for environmental impacts, for discovery of oil and gas, and for adverse effects on the coastal zone. As required by the president’s executive order, the Department of the Interior will cooperate with the Departments of Defense and Commerce on issues pertaining to this National OCS Program development process.

“This first step does not propose to schedule sales in particular areas, or make any preliminary decisions on what areas will be included in the schedule,” said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank. “The RFI considers all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf and 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.”

The BOEM seeks a wide array of input, including information on the economic, social, and environmental values of all Outer Continental Shelf 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.

Using the information received, the BOEM will prepare a Draft Proposed Program, followed by a Proposed Program and a Proposed Final Program. Throughout the planning process, the BOEM will consult with all interested parties and will seek additional public comment.

The BOEM currently manages more than 3,000 active OCS leases, covering more than 16 million acres – the vast majority in the Gulf of Mexico. Of those, approximately 885 are producing leases, covering 4.4 million acres. In 2016, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for about 18 percent of domestic oil production and 4 percent of domestic natural gas production. Under the RFI announced today, comments will be accepted until Aug. 17 in either of the following ways:

1. Electronically (preferred method): https://www.boem.gov/Public-Engagement-Opportunities/ Open the “Open Comment Document” link and follow instructions to view relevant documents and submit comments.

2. In written form, deliver to: Ms. Kelly Hammerle, National Program Manager, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 45600 Woodland Road-VAM-LD, Sterling, Va. 20166. 

— Pat Johnson


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