The Obama administration on Tuesday outlined a politically fraught plan for allowing oil drilling in U.S. coastal waters, announcing steps to open parts of the southeastern U.S. coastline for oil leasing while imposing new restrictions on waters off Alaska’s North Slope.
“The service and supply sector has a proven record of developing and applying the technologies that allow for increased efficiencies and minimization of environmental impact in offshore production. While we are pleased to see the administration addressing America’s offshore energy potential by increasing access to new areas in its proposed five-year plan, opening access to all areas of the OCS, including the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic, and Alaska’s waters will best utilize the energy resources we have right here at home in a responsible way,” said PESA President Leslie Beyer.
In August 2014, the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association joined the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association, and seven other energy trade associations in submitting comments to the Obama Administration in preparation of the 2017-2022 offshore leasing program.
Call to Action: Submit your support of offshore drilling through the public comment period at regulations.gov
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the new five-year offshore drilling proposal was a “balanced” approach, and she stressed that it was still only a draft.
But she praised it as a “balanced approach to oil and gas development” that allows for possibly opening up nearly 80 percent of discoverable and recoverable resources in federal waters, “while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop.”
The proposal would for the first time allow for one lease sale along a stretch of the East Coast from Virginia to Georgia, which would occur late in the 2017-2022 period covered in the strategy, which would allow time for more study on the infrastructure that would be needed for oil spills, Jewell said.
Tuesday’s proposal would implement a 50-mile buffer to keep drilling away from the Atlantic states’ coastlines, an effort to address concerns about the impact on tourism, military training, offshore wind and wildlife, Jewell said.
It would also include a “robust” proposal to hold 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as three off the coast of Alaska. It would continue a ban on drilling along the Pacific Coast. It calls for a new approach to lease sales in the Gulf, proposing two annual lease sales in the western, central and the portion of the eastern Gulf not currently subject to a congressional moratorium. The current approach does one sale in the western and a separate sale in the central Gulf each year.
She has taken heat from Alaska’s congressional delegation for following on Sunday’s announcement that the administration would move to block oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Tuesday’s proposal that also takes off the table five potential leasing areas off the state’s coastline.
That includes four areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas that were “deferred” under the current five-year plan that runs from 2012 to 2017. A fifth area — encompassing a long, narrow stretch of water called the Hanna Shoal — was not previously deferred.
“There’s been a lot of passion and comments coming from Alaska” since Sunday’s ANWR announcement, Jewell acknowledged. “But what I’d like to do is draw you to the facts and encourage you to look at the map” of what is covered under the new draft.
Murkowski said on Monday that the Obama administration “has effectively declared war on Alaska” through a trifecta this week of blocking ANWR drilling, withdrawing the areas off Alaska’s coast and instituting new mitigation requirements for ConocoPhillips’ operations in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
She and the other two members of the Alaska delegation, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, pledged to pursue all legislative and legal options to block the administration’s plans.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) summed up the views of many Republicans and the industry: “While this plan is a welcome thaw in the administration’s drilling moratorium, it still doesn’t go far enough,” he said.