Administration won't open up Atlantic for offshore drilling

MARCH 16, 2015 — The Obama Administration has decided not to open up areas in the Atlantic for offshore drilling.

The administration's proposal for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022 was unveiled yesterday by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper.

The proposed program incudes 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales off the coast of Alaska, butdoes not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area, citing "current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses."

The program was immediately slammed by American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard as "inconsistent with the will of American voters, governors and members of Congress who overwhelmingly support offshore oil and natural gas exploration and development."

"The decision appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production which would increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door for years to creating new jobs, new investments and boosting energy security," said Mr. Gerard. "This is not how you harness America's economic and diplomatic potential. While benefiting from energy policy choices made more than a decade ago, this inconsistent policy leads to unraveling the nation's ability to be a global energy leader and has left the future of American energy and national security vulnerable for the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead.

"This decision stunts the safe and responsible path to securing the domestic energy supplies future generations of Americans will need. This also wipes out an opportunity to create scores of additional new jobs for Americans along the Atlantic coast and nationwide, while also erasing millions more in revenue to the government. Expanding offshore development is a key part of that equation."

Before the program is finalized and before any lease sales occur, the Department will consider another round of public input on the proposal and its accompanying Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Gulf of Mexico

The proposed program includes 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico and continues a new approach to lease sales by proposing two annual lease sales that include all of the Western, Central, and the portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico not subject to the current Congressional moratorium. To provide greater flexibility for investment in the Gulf, this shifts from the traditional approach of one sale in the Western Gulf and a separate sale in the Central Gulf each year.

Alaska

The proposed program evaluates one potential sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas, while taking comment on other options, including an alternative that includes no new leasing, as well as other measures to protect natural resources and reduce conflicts with other ocean uses, such as subsistence activities. During the public meetings to scope the Environmental Impact Statement, several North Slope communities noted additional areas that may not be appropriate for oil and gas leasing. Using significant input and traditional knowledge from these communities, as well as other public comments and the best available science, BOEM has identified several areas where there is potential conflict between oil and gas activities and important ecological resources and subsistence activities. These areas are labeled "environmentally important areas" in the EIS. BOEM is seeking additional public input, particularly from Alaskan communities, regarding the resources and activities in those areas.

Additionally, in a Joint Statement with Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau last week, President Obama announced principles for Arctic leadership, including a commitment to ensure that any commercial activities in the Arctic will occur only when the highest safety and environmental standards are met, including national and global climate and environmental goals, and Indigenous rights and agreements. As BOEM moves forward with offshore oil and gas planning, the agency will work with Canada to meet the world-class standard for Arctic stewardship set by the two nations.

President Obama in January 2015 designated portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off limits from consideration for future oil and gas leasing in order to protect areas of critical importance to subsistence use by Alaska Natives, as well as for their unique and sensitive environmental resources. In December 2014, President Obama similarly placed the waters of Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development, protecting an area known for its world-class fisheries and stunning beauty.

Atlantic

After an extensive public input process, the sale that was proposed in the Draft Proposed Program in the Mid- and South Atlantic area has been removed from the program. The Department of the Interior says that many factors were considered in the decision to remove this sale from the 2017-2022 program including: significant potential conflicts with other ocean uses such as the Department of Defense and commercial interests; current market dynamics; limited infrastructure; and opposition from many coastal communities.Pacific:Areas off the Pacific coast are not included in this proposal, consistent with the Draft Proposed Program and the long-standing position of the Pacific coast states in opposition to oil and gas development off their coast.

Next Steps

In conjunction with the announcement of the Proposed Program, the Department is also publishing a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.The Proposed Program and Draft Programmatic EIS will be available for public comment following the publication of the documents in the Federal Register. BOEM will hold public scoping meetings for areas included in the Proposed Program and will accept comments for 90 days on the Proposed Program and for 45 days on the Draft Programmatic EIS.Following this opportunity for public comment and environmental review, the Department will prepare a Final Programmatic EIS with the Proposed Final Program (PFP).

More information, including maps, HERE

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