by jordan blum
Advocate Washington bureau
June 29, 2012
WASHINGTON — Outer Continental Shelf oil-and-gas drilling will continue to focus on the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana’s shore through 2017 with a secondary focus on Alaska, U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday.
The department submitted its five-year Outer Continental Shelf drilling plan Thursday that excludes deepwater drilling off the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts, where some Republicans have pressed President Barack Obama for oil-and-gas production.
Out of 15 OCS area lease sales scheduled through 2017, 12 of them are in the Gulf of Mexico, including two in parts of the eastern Gulf where more limited areas are available, according to the five-year plan.
Salazar called the Gulf a “crown jewel” for the nation’s energy production.
“We have the infrastructure, and we know that area very well,” he said.
“This plan is a key part of the president’s all-of-the-above energy policy,” Salazar said. “This is a good plan. It’s a smart plan; it’s an aggressive one.”
The next 10 potential lease sales are all scheduled for parts of the Gulf. Two Gulf lease sales are tentatively scheduled for 2013.
None of the Alaska lease sales would take place until 2016.
At that point, the plan moves forward with targeted lease sales in Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea off the coasts of northern Alaska, as well as the Cook Inlet off the southern Alaskan coast.
Salazar called the Arctic “the new frontier,” but he said there is hesitation to rush into those areas because oil-rich areas overlap many environmentally sensitive ones. Much environmental analysis is still needed, he said.
There also is the pending issue of lawsuits from environmental groups and Alaskans opposing the offshore drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort areas.
As for the Gulf, last week the federal government generated $1.74 billion in high bids on oil-and-gas leases for 454 central Gulf of Mexico tracts, including 43 winning bids from BP.
The lease sale in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans was the largest Gulf lease sale since the 2010 BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and along Louisiana’s coast.
Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Boudreau said that “industry has stepped up” to match the heightened safety requirements put in place after the BP oil disaster.
The plan “significantly” expands offshore Gulf drilling, Boudreau said.
U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., was quick to criticize the five-year plan. Hastings was particularly critical of the Obama administration blocking deepwater drilling off of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
“The Obama administration has announced a bleak future for American energy production by keeping 85 percent of America’s offshore areas under lock and key and refusing to open any new areas to drilling,” Hastings stated. “This plan reimposes the drilling moratoria lifted in 2008, hurts job creation and keeps new areas of American energy production sidelined.”
Boudreau has said the administration is moving forward with environmental impact studies and seismic surveys for Atlantic offshore drilling before deciding whether to move forward.
The latest seismic data is more than 25 years old.
Regarding pushes for drilling off the coast of Virginia, Salazar said, “The views of the states have to be taken into consideration,” and Virginia would not be the only state affected.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
Salazar also noted that there are complications with Atlantic drilling regarding Department of Defense military and homeland security exercises in the area that could be affected.
The five-year plan must be approved by Obama and go through a 60-day congressional review period before it becomes effective.