MMS publishes preliminary revised 5-year OCS program

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 7 -- The US Minerals Management Service published a preliminary revised 2007-12 Outer Continental Shelf program on Apr. 6 which removes from the schedule five lease sales off Alaska but keeps Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 after US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decided it was appropriate.

Publication of a revised 2007-12 OCS lease program came nearly a year after a federal appeals court vacated it in deciding that MMS did not adequately analyze potential environmental impacts of leasing farther off Alaska’s coast, as the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups charged in a lawsuit. Salazar subsequently got clarification allowing MMS to proceed with lease sales in the central and western Gulf of Mexico.

In its Apr. 17, 2009, ruling, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia directed Salazar to reconsider the leasing schedule, using a new sensitivity analysis in rebalancing the potential risks to the environmental and coastal zone with the potential for oil and gas discoveries, MMS said.

The preliminary revised program reaffirms the gulf’ role as the federal OCS’s primary producing region by retaining the eight sales that have already been held and four more remaining on the schedule, the US Department of the Interior agency said. OCS Sale 220 off Virginia and two special interest sales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet also are included, it added.

Cancelled was a third Cook Inlet sale, Sale 211, which had been scheduled for 2009. Salazar also kept in the program OCS Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea, which was held in 2008, because he considered it appropriate. MMS conditionally approved Shell Gulf of Mexico’s drilling plan for tracts it leased for $2.1 billion in the sale on Dec. 7. On Apr. 1, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued the necessary air-quality permit for Shell to proceed this summer.

The preliminary revised program schedules no sales in the North Aleutian basin and Beaufort Sea off Alaska nor any additional Chukchi Sea sales beyond Sale 193, MMS said.

It said Salazar made a preliminary decision to remove five sales from the schedule: Sales 209 and 217 in the Beaufort Sea, Sales 212 and 221 in the Chukchi Sea, and Sale 214 in the North Aleutian basin, including Bristol Bay. The secretary said on Mar. 31 when he outlined the Obama administration’s OCS strategy that Bristol Bay was being placed off-limits because potential risks, particularly to the commercial fishing industry, outweighed the area’s oil and gas potential.

“Results from exploration on existing leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, ongoing research on oil spill cleanup in icy waters, and more awareness of the effects of climate change will provide valuable information for making future decisions on offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic,” MMS said in its announcement about the preliminary revised schedule. It will accept comments on it through May 3.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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