DoI, BOEM exclude Atlantic margin in new OCS lease program

Offshore staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper have announced the proposal for the nation’s outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program for 2017-2022.

The proposed program released today evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas – 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales offshore Alaska.

The proposed program does not schedule any lease sales in the mid- and south Atlantic Program Area due to current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.

The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure,” said Jewell. “At the same time, the proposal removes other areas from consideration for leasing, and seeks input on measures to further reduce potential impacts to the environment, coastal communities, and competing ocean and coastal uses, such as subsistence activities by Alaska Natives.”

Release of the proposed program follows the publication of the draft proposed program (DPP) in January 2015 and is one of several steps in a multi-year process to develop a final offshore leasing program for 2017-2022, the Department of Interior (DoI) said in its statement.

Before the program is finalized and before any lease sales occur, the DoI will consider another round of public input on the proposal and its accompanying draft programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS).  

The proposed program continues a tailored leasing strategy set forth in the current 2012-2017 program that takes into account regional differences and information from each planning area.

Gulf of Mexico
The proposed program includes 10 sales in the GoM. The proposal continues a new approach to lease sales by proposing two annual lease sales that include the entire Western, Central, and the portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico not subject to the current Congressional moratorium.  

To provide greater flexibility for investment in the Gulf, this shifts from the traditional approach of one sale in the Western Gulf and a separate sale in the Central Gulf each year, the DoI noted.

The proposed program evaluates one potential sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas, while taking comment on other options, including an alternative that includes no new leasing, as well as other measures to protect natural resources and reduce conflicts with other ocean uses, such as subsistence activities.

During the public meetings to scope the EIS, several North Slope communities noted additional areas that may not be appropriate for oil and gas leasing. Using input and traditional knowledge from these communities, as well as other public comments and available science, BOEM said it identified several areas where there is potential conflict between oil and gas activities and important ecological resources and subsistence activities. These areas are labeled “environmentally important areas” in the EIS and are analyzed therein. BOEM is seeking additional public input, particularly from Alaskan communities, regarding the resources and activities in those areas.  

After an extensive public input process, the sale that was proposed in the DPP in the mid- and South Atlantic area has been removed from the program. Many factors were considered in the decision to remove this sale from the 2017-2022 program including: significant potential conflicts with other ocean uses such as the Department of Defense and commercial interests; current market dynamics; limited infrastructure; and opposition from many coastal communities. 

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” added Jewell. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Areas off the Pacific coast are not included in this proposal, consistent with the DPP and the long-standing position of the Pacific coast states in opposition to oil and gas development off their coast, the DoI said.

Next steps

In conjunction with the announcement of the proposed program, the department is also publishing a draft programmatic EIS, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The proposed program and draft programmatic EIS will be available for public comment following the publication of the documents in the Federal Register. BOEM will hold public scoping meetings for areas included in the proposed program and will accept comments for 90 days on the proposed program and for 45 days on the draft programmatic EIS.

Following this opportunity for public comment and environmental review, the department will prepare a final programmatic EIS with the proposed final program.

The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a five-year program that includes a schedule of potential oil and gas lease sales. 

Industry reaction

Many industry bodies representing difference sectors of the industry issued comments in response to the proposal, with many disagreeing with the decision to exclude the Atlantic margin.

“This decision stunts the safe and responsible path to securing the domestic energy supplies future generations of Americans will need,” said API President and CEO Jack Gerard. “This also wipes out an opportunity to create scores of additional new jobs for Americans along the Atlantic coast and nationwide, while also erasing millions more in revenue to the government. Expanding offshore development is a key part of that equation.”

National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi also spoke out against the proposal.

“[The decision] will certainly inhibit the economic opportunities and energy security of our country,” he said. “The fact remains that offshore oil and gas operations are conducted safely around the world on a daily basis, while technology and safety measures continually advance.  Moreover, experience has shown that offshore development does not conflict with, but rather complements, rich tourism and fishing industries. 

“For decades, these industries have coexisted and thrived in the Gulf of Mexico.  There was no valid reason to think the Atlantic would be any different.

“The decision also dismisses widespread support for offshore oil and gas development.  Several polls have repeatedly indicated that a majority of residents of the Atlantic states favor exploration and drilling off their coasts. Various state and local elected officials and stakeholder groups across a wide array of industries, like manufacturing and agriculture, support the safe exploration and production of offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic,” Luthi concluded.

Nikki Martin, who last year was elected President of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, called the proposal another missed opportunity.

“Today’s announcement, coupled with the continued delay in authorizing seismic surveys of the Atlantic represents yet another missed opportunity for the administration to make informed decisions about America’s resource development.

“The United States is virtually the only nation that is not exploring the resource potential of the Atlantic. … In addition, it calls into question the administration’s commitment to support a true ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy security,” she said.  


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