MMS to publish initial 2010-15 OCS leasing draft

Jan. 26, 2009
The US Minerals Management Service on Jan. 16 announced a draft of the proposed 2010-15 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program and preliminary plans for an Atlantic Coast environmental impact study.

The US Minerals Management Service on Jan. 16 announced a draft of the proposed 2010-15 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program and preliminary plans for an Atlantic Coast environmental impact study.

Oil and gas producers have been asking the US Department of Interior agency to conduct geological and geophysical studies off the Atlantic Coast since congressional and presidential bans on OCS leasing ended last year, MMS said. It said that it must conduct environmental reviews under the National Environmental Protection Act before such evaluations can begin.

MMS said that US Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne proposed 31 sales in 12 of the 26 planning areas during the 2010-15 period. Four of the planning areas are off Alaska, three are off the Atlantic Coast, three are in the Gulf of Mexico and two are off the Pacific Coast, it noted. The agency said that it received more than 150,000 comments in response to an Aug. 1, 2008, request for information.

The draft proposed 2010-15 OCS leasing program and a notice that a study of its potential environmental impacts will be conducted is scheduled to appear in the Jan. 21 Federal Register, MMS said. A 60-day public comment period will begin at that time, it indicated.

“In order to move forward with expanded exploration and development reasonably, we need current data. That is why we are also announcing today our intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement to evaluate potential environmental impacts of multiple geological and geophysical studies in the Atlantic OCS planning areas,” MMS Director Randall B. Luthi said.

‘2-year head start’

“We’re basically giving the next administration a 2-year head start. This is a multistep, multiyear process with a full environmental review and several opportunities for input from the states, other government agencies and interested parties, and the general public,” he added.

Comments are specifically being sought on the size, timing and location of lease sales, and on buffer zones, revenue-sharing and the use of unitization to limit the number of structures, according to MMS.

It said that the OCS contains an estimated 86 billion bbl of crude oil and 420 tcf of gas in yet-to-be-discovered fields. The numbers are conservative because little exploration has taken place in areas which congressional moratoriums and presidential withdrawals placed off-limits for the past quarter century, it said.

MMS also announced that it completed a final environmental impact statement for the proposed Cape Wind energy project off Massachusetts. The agency said that it submitted the final EIS for the 130-turbine wind farm to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Responding to the OCS oil and gas announcement, US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said on Jan. 16 that he expects the draft for a proposed 5-year leasing plan to raise concerns in some coastal states.

‘A thoughtful approach’

He noted that Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), President-elect Barack H. Obama’s nominee to succeed Kempthorne as Interior secretary, said in a Jan. 15 confirmation hearing before the committee that he would take “a thoughtful approach toward this issue that would feature close collaboration with coastal states.”

Three groups applauded the new 5-year OCS leasing plan’s introduction. “With natural gas demand projected to increase by more than 40% by 2025, supplies must be increased in order for American Gas Association member companies to deliver gas to their nearly 70 million customers at a fair and equitable price,” said Rick Shelby, AGA’s executive vice-president of public affairs.

Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said that MMS’s announcement means the federal government is taking the “first meaningful steps toward delivering our country and its people a secure, affordable energy future.

“As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to work on a government-directed ‘green jobs’ plan to stimulate our economy, today’s announcement presents our country with two very different choices: Either we can spend massive amounts of taxpayer money on energy that’s less reliable, less affordable, and less powerful, or we can generate massive new revenues for the taxpayer by producing energy that’s more reliable, much more affordable, and significantly more powerful,” he continued.

News that the federal government intends to deliver energy resources consumers need is a welcome development as the US economy begins a long road back to recovery, according to David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance in Houston. “For far too long, access to affordable energy was considered a given. The events of this summer taught us differently, and today’s announcement by the Interior Department provides the first real indication that we’ve learned our lesson and are finally prepared to act on it,” he said.