BOE seeks public comments on CX policy review

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 8 -- The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Research, and Enforcement began on Oct. 7 to seek public comments on its review of using categorical exclusions (CXs) in decisions involving development of US Outer Continental Shelf resources. It will accept comments through Nov. 8.

BOE announced on Aug. 16 that it would review its CX practices to determine if they are consistent with recommendations by the White House Council on Environmental Quality after CEQ issued a report on the matter. BOE Director Michael R. Bromwich directed the agency to restrict offshore CXs to activities involving limited environmental risk while it conducted the review.

BOE’s predecessor agency, the US Minerals Management Service, and the US Bureau of Land Management, which manages onshore federal resources, issued CXs for several years when they determined that an application covered a site that had already undergone a full review under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced on Jan. 6, as part of a series of federal onshore leasing reforms, that he would not let them be issued in cases that involve “extraordinary circumstances” such as impacts to protected species, historic or cultural resources, or human health and safety in accordance with CEQ guidelines. He subsequently extended his order to MMS and the federal offshore holdings it manages.

In its notice seeking comments, which was scheduled to appear in the Nov. 8 Federal Register, BOE said DOI identified NEPA procedures, which were promulgated as regulations on Oct. 15, 2008, that normally would not have, or be expected to have, significant individual or cumulative impacts and therefore would not require an environmental assessment or impact statement. It also identified extraordinary circumstances which nullify uses of CXs in particular circumstances.

BOE said it has identified additional oil and gas activities which would qualify for CXs, including surveying, mapping, geophysical mapping and other resource evaluations which do not use explosives; collection of geological data not involving drilling beyond 50 ft of consolidated rock or 300 ft of unconsolidated rock; and acquisition of existing geological or geophysical data from otherwise private exploration ventures.

Well logging, digital modeling, inventories of existing wells, installation of recording devices in wells, establishment and installation of any research or monitoring devices, test or exploration drilling included in a project previously subject to the NEPA process, insignificant revisions to the approved 5-year leasing program, and prerelease planning steps such as a call for information and area identification also would qualify, BOE said.

It noted that MMS reviewed and revised its CX policies several times since the late 1970s, when they were first developed, and initiated this review to assure compliance with NEPA requirements and CEQ guidelines.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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