U.S. govt asks public to weigh in on proposed offshore oil & gas leasing plan
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is seeking public input after the Biden administration proposed a new, five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program, which narrows the area considered for leasing to the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet while removing federal waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from consideration.
The Department of the Interior issued on Friday, 1 July 2022, the Proposed Program for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for the years 2023-2028.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, explained: “Today, based on my team’s work and my direction, the Department of the Interior is inviting the public to comment on a proposed offshore leasing program that will chart our course forward over the next five years. This is the second step in a three-step planning process to determine whether or how many offshore oil and gas lease sales to hold over the next five years.”
While the Draft Proposed Program (DPP), released in 2018 by the previous administration, proposed 47 lease sales across 25 of 26 OCS planning areas, under the new administration’s Proposed Program, the Secretary “significantly” narrowed the area considered for leasing to the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet, where there is existing production and infrastructure.
“The proposed plan puts forward several options from no lease sales up to 11 lease sales over the next five years. Like the current program finalised in 2016, it removes from consideration the federal waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts,” added Secretary Haaland.
Furthermore, the Department of the Interior explains that the inclusion of an area or a potential lease sale in the Proposed Program does not mean that it will be included in the final National OCS Program. However, any area or sale not included in the Proposed Program will not be considered for inclusion in the final 2023–2028 National OCS Program.
After the previous administration published the DPP, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) considered more than 2 million comments from the public and stakeholders, including governors, federal agencies, state agencies, local agencies, energy and non-energy industries, Tribal governments, non-governmental organizations including environmental advocacy groups, and the public.
Next steps for 2023-2028 offshore oil & gas leasing
Moreover, the DOI elaborates that the new Proposed Program includes ten potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and one potential lease sale in the northern portion of the Cook Inlet Planning Area offshore Alaska. Based on public input and analysis, these potential lease sales, including in the GOM, could be further refined and targeted, prior to program approval while the Final Program may include fewer potential lease sales, including no lease sales.
The DOI further says that following this opportunity for public comment, BOEM will prepare a Proposed Final Program and Final PEIS, which will include an analysis of the size, timing, location, and the number of potential lease sales in the Proposed Program, which may be further narrowed or areas could be excluded. Afterwards, there is a minimum 60-day period before the Secretary can approve the program and finalise the Record of Decision.
The Department of the Interior further points out that the federal government cannot conduct offshore lease sales without the development and approval of a Final Program consistent with Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
This authorises the Secretary of the Interior to establish a schedule of lease sales for a five-year period by balancing specific factors of OCS regions and selecting the size, timing, and location of OCS lease sales that best meet regional and national energy needs while considering the impact of oil and gas exploration on the marine, coastal, and human environments.
The DOI informs that the Proposed Program reflects the Secretary’s “careful consideration” of these factors.
“A Proposed Program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorise any drilling or development. From day one, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now,” concluded Secretary Deb Haaland.
Back in November 2021, the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history and the first under the Biden administration was held by the Interior Department, resulting in more than $191 million in high bids. A few months later, the results of the sale were invalidated by a U.S. judge on the grounds of failure to properly account for the lease sale’s climate change impact.
This decision was hailed as a pivotal victory in the fight to defend Gulf communities and the planet from the worsening climate crisis by environmental groups, however, the American Petroleum Institute (API), was disappointed with the decision and filed a notice of appeal in February 2022.