Debate intensifies over OCS Sale 181, other access issues

Feb. 20, 2006
The debate over access to offshore US energy resources has intensified.

The debate over access to offshore US energy resources has intensified.

Most attention now is on the so-called Sale 181 area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which was included in both the 5-year leasing plan for 2007-12 that the US Minerals Management Service is developing and a Senate bill that was the subject of an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Feb. 16.

Both would exclude oil and gas leasing, exploration, or development within 100 miles of the coast.

Outer Continental Shelf Lease Sale 181 originally was held on Dec. 5, 2001, offering deepwater tracts off Louisiana and Alabama more than 100 miles from Florida’s coast. MMS awarded 95 leases drawing almost $340.5 million in high bids a month later.

Florida’s US senators, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson, say support is growing in their state for a bill they introduced Feb. 1 to permanently ban leasing in the Sale 181 area and keep offshore exploration 260 miles from Tampa Bay.

Nelson also wrote Sec. of the Interior Gale A. Norton on Feb. 9, asking her to identify 25 oil and gas producers that expressed interest in the eastern gulf, according to the MMS’s leasing plan draft.

A spokesman for Nelson explained later that the senator was seeking copies of all the comments because the MMS web site said 40 comments were received on the proposal, while the draft itself said there were 53. “So we just want to see hard copies of everything,” he said. “I believe full disclosure of the comments provided by the oil and gas companies is in the public interest and that Floridians have the right to know which companies want to drill off their coast,” Nelson told Norton.

IOGCC releases report

Meanwhile, the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission released a report highlighting untapped oil and gas potential off North America’s coasts in areas that are currently off-limits.

The report prepared by IOGCC’s North American Coastal Alliance estimates that areas covered by moratoriums or executive withdrawals contain nearly 135 tcf of gas and 30 billion bbl of oil.

It said US offshore areas that are off-limits (including Alaska and the Great Lakes as well as the East, West, and Gulf Coasts) could contain more than 19 million bbl of crude and 85 tcf of gas. Similar offshore areas in Canada potentially could hold 11 billion bbl and 51 tcf.

The estimates were developed by oil and gas officials in US states and Canadian provinces.

“This report is not intended to influence policy; however, it is important that citizens and policy-makers understand the significance of these potential resources when making energy development decisions,” said NACA Chairman Dan Seamount, who also is Alaska’s oil and gas conservation commissioner.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers commented on the issue on Feb. 13 in its latest Economic Report of the President.

“The administration supports greater access to oil and natural gas resources offshore states that support such development,” it said.