Townhall | Paul Driessen | February 3, 2018

Under the current offshore energy program developed during the Obama years, 94% of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is off limits to leasing and drilling. Under the Draft Proposed Program (DPP) announced January 4 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, over 90% of OCS acreage and 98% of “undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources” in these federal offshore areas (beyond the 3-mile limit of state waters) will be considered for possible future leasing, exploration and development.

The Trump-Zinke plan proposes the largest number of lease sales in US history: 19 off Alaska, 7 in the Pacific, 9 in the Atlantic, and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico (where the vast majority of leasing, drilling and production have taken place over the past 65 years). Government experts estimate that these areas could hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, worth over $6.5 trillion.

Shortly after the DPP was presented, Florida Governor Rick Scott contacted the secretary, discussed the plan and issued a statement saying the Eastern Gulf was no longer under consideration. Other governors insisted that areas off their coasts also be eliminated from consideration. Energy companies and others said the Florida decision was premature, and the normal planning process should be followed.

Actually, there has been no decision on Gov. Scott’s request, and the process is being followed. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are still in the midst of their 60-day comment period on the DPP. That will lead to a Proposed Program, Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and another public comment period. A Proposed Final Program, another EIS, more public input, and eventually a new Five-Year Leasing Plan will follow.

Meanwhile, Sec. Zinke will be speaking with coastal state governors and legislators, to hear their concerns, explain the process, and discuss how drilling can be conducted with increasing safety.

Somewhere during this long process, new seismic surveys should be conducted, to identify and interpret subsurface structures that could contain oil and/or natural gas. The last Atlantic region surveys were 30 years ago, and other areas were never surveyed. Oil companies need high quality data to determine whether an area has enough potential to warrant bidding on a lease. The BOEM needs the best possible data to make informed decisions on which areas should be kept in or dropped out of the planning process – and later on whether bids reflect an area’s potential value or should be rejected.

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