On August 25, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) moved one step closer to completion of its offshore oil and gas leasing plan for 2007-2012, releasing the Proposed Program and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This marked the beginning of a 90-day public comment period.
The Proposed Plan maintains most of the key provisions in the Draft Proposed Plan and marks a step in the right direction toward fixing the limitations on access to the oil and gas resources on the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf.
First, the Proposed Program keeps the provisions that could allow leasing off the coast of Virginia. The Virginia coast is currently off limits for oil and gas exploration — like 85% of the waters around the lower 48 states — as a result of presidential and congressional moratoria. But the Bush Administration has repeatedly stated that it would seek guidance on lifting moratoria only from the states themselves. The inclusion of this area reflects policy discussions in that state over the last two years, and marks the first time in decades that the Atlantic seaboard has even been considered.
Second, the Proposed Plan attempts to make available more of the original Lease Sale 181 acreage in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. In a set of provisions similar to the legislation recently passed by the U.S. Senate, the Proposed Plan increases the amount of acreage offered by transferring part of the “bulge” portion of the Lease Sale 181 area in the Gulf of Mexico from the eastern planning area to the central planning area, and also includes an area in the Eastern Gulf south of the original Lease Sale 181 Area and out to the EEZ line.
Third, the Proposed Plan includes several key alterations to the earlier proposals for the Alaska region. The Draft Proposed Plan had called for continued oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and possible leasing in the North Aleutian Basin off the coast of Alaska. These three areas remain in the latest version, but MMS has made certain changes at the request of the State of Alaska to remove some nearshore acreage and certain areas that might conflict with critical fisheries.
The “181 South,” offshore Virginia, and North Aleutian Basin acreages continue to be governed by Presidential and/or Congressional moratoria, but MMS has scheduled proposed lease sale dates so that leasing can occur if the moratoria are lifted during the term of this Proposed Plan. NOIA had strongly urged the MMS to include such areas under withdrawal and moratoria to allow for maximum flexibility in meeting the country’s evolving energy needs during the coming 5 years.
NOIA is already beginning to prepare its next set of comments for submission to MMS, and will circulate those among the membership. In addition, NOIA will be working with a coalition of end-user groups, states, and other industry associations to coordinate our message for maximum impact. This will be particularly important in preparation for the public meetings that will be convened around the country.
Finally, a reminder that it is vital we encourage the submission of the maximum number of public comments in support of our position calling for increased access. In the last round of comments, a total of 39,179 were submitted, with 26,966 (70%) in favor and 12,213 opposed, in part because NOIA member companies reached out to their own employees and retirees, asking them to submit comments as individuals. In this way, Shell, ExxonMobil, Anadarko, Hydril, Chouest and numerous others were able to generate thousands of individual comments to MMS. Since we fully expect that the environmental opponents of offshore access will step up their commenting during this upcoming 90-day period, NOIA will again develop a web portal through which individuals can submit comments easily, and we will send instructions that NOIA members can distribute to their own networks.
If you have any questions about the 5-Year Plan, please contact Kim Harb at (202) 347-6900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.