U.S. Unveils Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Plan
After considering more than 3.3 million public comments and holding 36 public meetings, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Hopper released the final plan to guide future energy development for the Nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for 2017 to 2022.
The plan takes a balanced approach to best meet the nation’s energy needs by including areas offshore with high resource potential and mature infrastructure while protecting regions with critical ecological resources.
The Proposed Final Program offers 11 potential lease sales in four planning areas—10 in the portions of three Gulf of Mexico Program Areas that are not under moratorium and one sale off the coast of Alaska in the Cook Inlet Program Area.
After receiving extensive public input and analyzing the best available scientific data, the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas planning areas in the Arctic are not included in the Proposed Final Program. The Proposed Final Program makes available areas containing approximately 70 percent of the economically recoverable resources in the OCS.
“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places—those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure—and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said Jewell. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”
Release of the Proposed Final Program, along with the accompanying Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, is one of the final steps in a multi-year process that was initiated in June 2014.
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 and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing determined to best meet national energy needs, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations.
The secretary may approve the final program after a minimum of 60 days. The plan would then become effective on July 1, 2017.
The Proposed Final Program includes 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico where resource potential and industry interest are high, and oil and gas infrastructure is well established. The vast majority of U.S. offshore oil production occurs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Proposed Final Program does not include any lease sales in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska. The department’s analysis identified significant risks to sensitive marine resources and communities from potential new leasing in the Arctic. Moreover, due to the high costs associated with exploration and development in the Arctic and the foreseeable low projected oil prices environment, demonstrated industry interest in new leasing currently is low.
Areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are not included in the program.
BOEM currently manages 3,400 active OCS oil and gas leases, covering more than 18 million acres. In 2015, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for about 16 percent of domestic oil production and five percent of domestic natural gas production.