DOI removes Virginia lease sale from proposed 2017-22 OCS plan

The US Department of the Interior announced its proposed 2017-21 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas program, which deleted a planned 2021 lease sale offshore Virginia. Officials said this was largely in response to US military and public concerns that were much stronger this time than 5 years earlier.

“There was tremendous interest in the Atlantic,” Interior Sec. Sally Jewell told reporters during a Mar. 15 teleconference. “Generally, it was expressions of concern. We weren’t just waiting for [the US Department of Defense] to weigh in. We held multiple public meetings over a year.”

US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper, who also participated, said, “DOD took a look at how their mission could be affected by oil and gas activity in the Atlantic. The map they provided showed the entire proposed lease sale area would be affected. The way it changed from 2010 is that more of the area is affected because of growth in the Navy’s mission.”

News of DOD’s stronger concerns apparently surprised at least one of Virginia’s two Democratic US senators, however. “I am particularly struck by the material objections of [DOD] to the incompatibility of drilling with naval operations off Virginia’s coast, cited by the BOEM as one of the three principal reasons for [its] decision,” Timothy J. Kaine said following DOI’s announcement.

“I have participated in this debate for over a decade as a governor and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Kaine said. “DOD has been relatively quiet during this public debate and has never shared their objections with me before. I look forward to additional discussions with DOD to understand its position.”

But Jewell and Hopper emphasized that DOD’s concerns were only part of broader objections to holding the sale, which came from coastal residents and communities as well as from individuals and groups across the country. Oil and gas market trends and growing domestic onshore production also affected the decision, they said.

‘Now is not the time’

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Jewell said. “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 5 years.”

Hopper noted, “The market reality now is that onshore production has increased in the last few years. When we look at the production we’d receive from a single lease sale in the South Atlantic, we determined that national security would not be hurt if it didn’t take place.”

Jewell said, “Oil is a commodity. Its price jumps all over the place. We really rely on the industry’s interest. Current oil prices were not a material factor. But market conditions writ large and risks of pursuing an Atlantic lease sale over a 5-year period were.”

Oil and gas groups immediately criticized the move. “This is not how you harness America’s economic and diplomatic potential,” American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said. “While benefiting from energy policy choices made more than a decade ago, this inconsistent policy leads to unraveling the nation's ability to be a global energy leader and has left the future of American energy and national security vulnerable for the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead.”

Meanwhile, National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi said, “It is difficult to put into words how wrong and anti-energy this decision is. By not taking the long-term view, the administration sells US consumers short. Instead, they have determined they are content to let the rest of world lead in Atlantic offshore oil and gas development. This is the wrong direction in efforts to continue the US march towards energy independence.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell, meanwhile, said, “Closing the door to new areas of development, including the already-planned Atlantic waters, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and even Alaska’s waters, in turn closes the door to more American jobs and opportunities for our economy. This plan will make our nation less competitive, limit our geopolitical advantages abroad, and force us to be more reliant on foreign sources of oil from volatile regions of the world.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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