Groups urge MMS to expand 5-year OCS lease sale plan

April 17, 2006
Six oil and gas associations have asked the US Minerals Management Service to expand Outer Continental Shelf lease sale areas beyond those listed in the proposed 5-year program.

Six oil and gas associations have asked the US Minerals Management Service to expand Outer Continental Shelf lease sale areas beyond those listed in the proposed 5-year program.

“In particular, we urge the agency to include all of the area in the ‘original Sale 181 area’ rather than just the bulge area, as well as all of the Atlantic Planning Areas off the East Coast,” the associations said in joint comments submitted Apr. 10 to the MMS.

The associations are the National Ocean Industries Association, Domestic Petroleum Council, Independent Petroleum Association of America, International Association of Drilling Contractors, Natural Gas Supply Association, and US Oil & Gas Association.

The groups applauded the Department of the Interior agency for the areas it has included, including the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico; the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, North Aleutian basin, and Cook Inlet off Alaska; and “the small area identified off the Virginia coast.”

But they also recommended that the MMS make the 2007-12 plan flexible so the federal government can respond to changing US energy needs.

“Area-wide lease sales should be continued in the Gulf of Mexico and scheduled for any other areas possible. Where area-wide leasing may not be possible, the agency should schedule focused leasing for particular areas,” the associations said.

They said that for areas off-limits because of temporary administrative or legislative restrictions, the new 5-year program should keep the approach proposed in the draft of proceeding with analysis and sales only if the restrictions are lifted.

Florida exclusion

The groups criticized the proposed program for declaring that the Interior secretary does not intend to offer leases in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico within 100 miles of Florida’s coast.

They noted that Section 18 of the OCS Lands Act “requires that all areas be analyzed so that informed decisions may be made after conducting a comparative analysis of all the areas.”

The National Environmental Policy Act also requires that such a process be early and open so it can determine the scope of issues to be addressed and identify significant issues, they added.

“Declaring the secretary’s intention before that process has even taken place undermines the NEPA process. We do not believe this concern was addressed in the draft proposed program,” the associations said.

In additional comments that it filed Apr. 7, DPC noted that the proposed 100-mile buffer off Florida “could prevent adding very important increments of supply for consumers.”

These include residents of Florida, “a state that has seen one of the highest natural gas demand increase trends in the past, that is expected to see that demand continue, and that currently benefits from reliable, safe oil and gas production well within 100 miles of its coast,” DPC said.

Socioeconomic impacts

In their joint comments, the associations expressed concern that the currently proposed 5-year program does not include plans to consider social and economic impacts of producing or not producing oil and gas from the OCS on the entire country.

“The resources of the OCS are owned by all Americans, and the hardship created by withholding our energy resources from people in Middle America should be considered in the decision-making process,” they said.

In addition to commenting as associations, several industry groups also encouraged their members to submit individual comments to the MMS.

The American Gas Association and IPAA set aside parts of their web sites for that purpose, and during NOIA’s recent annual meeting in Washington, DC, Shell Oil Co. sponsored a table that had laptop computers so members of the association could prepare comments and submit them directly to the MMS online.