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  July 4th, 2017 | Written by

Trump Administration Acts to Replace Obama Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program

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United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has taken action to replace the National Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program on the Outer Continental Shelf developed under the Obama administration.

Zinke announced he was opening up a public comment period for a new five-year plan to replace the the 2017-2022 Five Year Program, which is set to begin later this summer. The current program, which was developed over a three-year period by the Obama administration, will continue to be executed until the new National OCS Program is complete. The publication of the request for information (RFI) begins a 45-day public comment period. It will take about two years to complete the new plan, which will presumably cover the years 2019 to 2024.

“Offering more areas for energy exploration and responsible development was a cornerstone of the President’s campaign,” said Zinke, “and this action is the first step in making good on that promise for offshore oil and gas.”

Under the last administration, 94 percent of the OCS was off-limits to responsible development, according to Acting Assistant Secretary Kate MacGregor.

The Secretary’s Order calls for enhancing opportunities for energy exploration, leasing, and development of the OCS, establishing regulatory certainty for OCS activities, and enhancing conservation stewardship.

The initiation of a new National OCS Program development process, to be managed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), implements an earlier order by Zinke.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior, through BOEM, 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. In developing the National OCS Program 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.

“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.” Using the information received, BOEM will prepare a Draft Proposed Program, followed by a Proposed Program and a Proposed Final Program.

The current National OCS Program for 2017–2022 schedules 11 potential lease sales: 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet of Alaska. The Cook Inlet sale was held recently and garnered $3 million for 14 tracts from Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Co. Offshore Arctic lease sales, in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska and the Chukchi, had been considered for the Obama administration’s 2017-2022 program but were not included in the final five-year plan released last November.

Advocates of Arctic drilling welcomed the initiation of a new leasing process. “I’m pleased the administration has wasted no time in starting the process for a new and better plan that could increase offshore development in Alaska and elsewhere,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska. “With technological innovation, offshore development is now cheaper, easier, safer, and farther-reaching than ever before.”

Environmentalists blasted the administration’s move. “It is disappointing but not surprising that Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are reopening the five-year planning process, which was just completed with input from millions of Americans who said, loud and clear, that we do not want offshore drilling off our coasts,” said Lena Moffitt of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “Expanding drilling off our shores would put our coastal communities’ health, economic well-being, and environment at risk, and continue to ignore the impacts of climate change across the nation.”

Apparently absent from the administration’s considerations is that the oil and gas industry abandoned Arctic drilling after Shell sank $7 billion in Arctic drilling between 2012 and 2105 and failed to a commercial-quantity oil discovery, leading Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society to opine that the “five-year program redo is a terrible waste of government resources.”