Supporters Attack Lack of Atlantic, Eastern GOM Leases

The first of 13 public hearings concerning the proposed 2012 - 2017 oil and gas lease sale commenced Tuesday in Houston with less than a handful of citizens from both sides voicing concerns over the government's plan -- predominantly concerning the lack of lease sales in the Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2012 - 2017 includes 15 lease sales in six offshore areas where there are currently active leases and exploration, and where there is known or anticipated hydrocarbon potential.

BOEM's Chief Environmental Officer Alan Thornhill listened as oil industry supporters with the American Petroleum Institute and the Consumer Energy Alliance announced support for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's decision to expand access to offshore oil and gas resources but both groups also raised issues with the department's removal of areas in the Pacific, not opening up areas in the mid-Atlantic, and for keeping the majority of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that currently under congressional moratorium.

Andy Radford, Senior Policy Advisor with the American Petroleum Institute, said the department's decision to limit the five-year program's scope is a "missed opportunity" to build a secure energy future for the nation.

"We need to be doing the right things today to meet our energy needs of tomorrow," Radford said. "This five-year program is a flat-footed energy policy that fails to move us in the right direction. It maintains a status quo that will not adequately help prepare us for a strong energy future.

Radford said the governments reasoning behind which areas to include in the five-year program are inconsistent. He cited four examples of the government's inconsistency for limiting the expansion of future offshore development:

  • Local and State Support for Development -- The secretary removed specific areas from consideration citing recommendations of local elected officials, while excluding areas offshore Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where support is strong.
  • Frontier Areas Not Ready -- Radford cited the Department of Interior's argument that the oil and gas industry shouldn't be looking for more oil and natural gas if there is not development infrastructure already in place. Radford said this effectively rules out all "frontier areas" and "continues the leasing moratorium that has locked up coasts for many decades."
  • Conflicts with Military Operations -- Discussions in mid September 2009 concerning potential conflicts with military operations led to a decision in March 2010 to include the Atlantic in the 2012-2017 lease sale. However, now the department cites the conflicts with military operations as a reason for not including the Atlantic, and has not yet provided documentation that substantiates the concerns.
  • Lack of Data for on Resource Potential -- The incentive for seismic companies to gather new data in areas left out of the 2012-2017 five-year program is very little without the prospect of a lease sale. Radford said the data the department wants to see in those areas is "very unlikely to be generated" if leasing is not envisioned in the area.

Evan Shoop with the Consumer Energy Alliance said it is unfortunate the Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico remain unavailable for energy exploration and production in the draft plan.

"CEA was disappointed to learn early this year that the Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico would not be included in the five-year plan. These off-limit areas have the potential to greatly increase our domestic energy supply," Shoop said. "CEA believes the offshore energy production is vital to our nation's energy security, national security and economic recovery, and that more acreage should be available for exploration and production. At the very least, coastal states, should be able to evaluate the resource space and determine what the impacts would be in terms of jobs and revenue."

Of the four members of the public who shared comments during the hearing in Houston, only one comment came from a non-industry supporter. Alaska Wilderness League Field Operations Director Liz VanDenzen asked for the department to remove the lease sales in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas, citing oil spill response plans for the Arctic's unique environment are inadequate.

Citing Shell's ongoing legal issues with its oil spill response plan in the region, VanDenzen said Shell's plans include "glorified mops and buckets."

The public hearing was held at the Marriott Hotel at Intercontinental Airport Tuesday afternoon. Another public hearing was also held Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The complete schedule of public hearings can be found on BOEM's website.


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