Staff Report
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Draft Proposed Program Areas – Lower 48 States (courtesy image)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced the next step for developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90% of the total OCS acreage and more than 98% of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development. By comparison, the current program puts 94% of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Zinke. “Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance"

The Draft Proposed Program includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, seven in the Pacific Region, and nine in the Atlantic Region. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s five-year lease schedule. See full-size map of DPP areas in lower 48 states.

"The Trump Administration's decision to radically expand offshore drilling to nearly all US waters is yet another giveaway to the oil and gas industry, made over the objections of coastal communities, military leaders, and environmental organizations," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). "Local, state, and federal leaders from both parties have been vocal in their opposition to this move. When taken with last week's decision to reverse safety and enforcement rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, Trump is exposing our nation's coastal communities and environment to unacceptably high risks."

National OCS Process (courtesy image)

Release of the DPP is an early step in a multi-year process to develop a final National OCS Program for 2019-2024. Today's draft proposal was informed by approximately 816,000 comments from a wide variety of stakeholders, including state governments, federal agencies, public interest groups, industry, and the public. Before the program is finalized, the public will have additional opportunities to provide input. The 2017-2022 Five Year Program will continue to be implemented until the new National OCS Program is approved.

“A commitment to preserving the health of Virginia’s coastline has fueled the growth of the New Virginia Economy—today’s announcement puts the progress we’ve made at risk,” said Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam.  “Expanding offshore drilling unnecessarily jeopardizes our economy, environment, national security, and the health and safety of our residents. All it takes is one exploration gone wrong to do immeasurable harm to major economic drivers including tourism, fishing, aquaculture, and our military installations. As governor, I’ll join other governors in opposing this decision and continue my record of fighting for state-driven conservation solutions.”

Inclusion of an area in the DPP is not a final indication that it will be included in the approved program or offered in a lease sale, because many decision points still remain. By proposing to open these areas for consideration, the Secretary ensures that he will receive public input and analysis on all of the available OCS to better inform future decisions on the National OCS Program. Prior to any individual lease sale in the future, BOEM will continue to incorporate new scientific information and stakeholder feedback in its reviews to further refine the geographic scope of the lease areas.

“Today’s announcement by the Trump administration willfully ignores coastal governors, communities, businesses, and elected leaders up and down the coast who’ve made it clear they don’t want drilling off their shores,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Offshore drilling threatens local communities, economies, and everything that makes the South a special place. In 2016, Southern communities along the Atlantic coast successfully fought off an attempt to bring offshore drilling to their coasts, and they will do the same again.”

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, to prepare and maintain a schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales in federal waters, indicating the size, timing, and location of leasing activity that would best meet national energy needs for the five-year period following program approval. In developing the National OCS Program, the Secretary is required to achieve an appropriate balance among the potential for environmental impacts, for discovery of oil and gas, and for adverse effects on the coastal zone.

BOEM currently manages about 2,900 active OCS leases, covering almost 15.3 million acres – the vast majority in the Gulf of Mexico. In fiscal year 2016, oil and gas leases on the OCS accounted for approximately 18% of domestic oil production and 4% of domestic natural gas production. This production generates billions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments and the U.S. taxpayer, while supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The DPP proposes nine lease sales in the Atlantic Region – three sales each for the Mid- and South Atlantic, two for the North Atlantic, and one for the Straits of Florida. There have been no sales in the Atlantic since 1983 and there are no existing leases.

SELC notes the draft plan omits the 50-mile buffer off the coast previously included in the Obama administration’s five-year plan.  Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a proposal last week to roll back safety rules put in place in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which would bring drilling closer to shore and make it more dangerous for the communities who depend on the coast and its fisheries.

Next Steps

In conjunction with the announcement of the DPP, the Department of the Interior is also publishing a Notice of Intent to prepare a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Public meetings will be held around the country starting on Jan. 16, 2018, to receive comments on the DPP and to inform the Draft Programmatic EIS. Specific dates, times, and venues will be posted on BOEM’s website at https://www.boem.gov/National-Program/.

Using the information received from these public meetings, BOEM will prepare a Proposed Program, which will be published for public comment, to be followed by a Proposed Final Program. In addition, the Department will prepare a Draft Programmatic EIS to be published concurrently with the Proposed Program, and a Final EIS with the Proposed Final Program.

The DPP and the Notice of Intent will be available for public comment for 60 days following the publication of the documents in the Federal Register.

For more information about the National OCS Program, including maps, visit: http://www.boem.gov/National-Program/.