For Immediate Release: Contact: Nicolette Nye
Tuesday, August 17, 2010 (202) 347-6900
NOIA Comments on DOI’s Latest Move in the Gulf
WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of the Interior added to the growing uncertainty for the offshore industry yesterday when it announced it will restrict the use of categorical exclusions for offshore oil and gas development, review its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process and the use of categorical exclusions, require Environmental Assessments (EA) in the place of these exclusions, and will conduct a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the entire Gulf of Mexico.
“Our initial reaction is that in the short term this will cause more confusion and uncertainty for industry,” said Jeff Vorberger, Government Relations Director for the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA). “That has certainly been the case for the current deep water moratorium and shallow water de facto moratorium.”
“The move to review the data regarding exploration in deep water should be done in a manner that does not cause a tailspin of jobs in the exploration and development field,” said Vorberger. “The Department must dedicate sufficient resources to organize and incorporate the existing data as soon as possible, otherwise this exercise could add months and perhaps even years to the review and approval process with little environmental benefit.”
The Department’s announcement that it will also conduct a supplemental EIS for the entire Gulf of Mexico portends even more uncertainty for the industry. “We are concerned that the current deep water drilling suspensions could continue longer than expected while the supplemental EIS is completed, or may result in a de facto moratorium should the suspensions be lifted while it is underway,” said Vorberger. “Either way, the end result could be less domestic energy, fewer domestic jobs and little environmental benefit.”
There are misconceptions about the use of categorical exclusions under NEPA. Categorical exclusions have been a part of the NEPA process for decades. However, the recent focus on a categorical exclusion used leading up to the lease sale that included the submerged land where BP drilled the Macondo well, may lead some to believe that such a tool is unique to the former Minerals Management Service (MMS). In fact, many Federal departments and agencies have processes for the use of categorical exclusions.
Also contrary to what some may believe, a categorical exclusion does not entirely bypass an environmental review. Categorical exclusions are usually granted once it is determined that a federal action, such as the approval of an exploration plan, does not need additional review. Before the Department makes a determination on whether to allow a categorical exclusion, it has usually already conducted other environmental reviews, such as one or more EISs or EAs.
For example, an EIS is conducted on the Five Year Plan itself and usually a second multi-sale EIS is conducted for a specific offshore region before lease sales are held. Department officials review the existing impact statements and determine if sufficient environment analysis has been conducted on the overall process to grant a categorical exclusion.
NOIA is the only national trade association representing all segments of the offshore industry with an interest in the exploration and production of both traditional and renewable energy resources on the nation’s outer continental shelf. The NOIA membership comprises more than 250 companies engaged in business activities ranging from producing to drilling, engineering to marine and air transport, offshore construction to equipment manufacture and supply, telecommunications to finance and insurance.