MMS Presents Offshore Lease Program to Next Administration

Lease 208: Central GOM
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The Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has announced significant milestones that will potentially lead to expanded domestic production of both traditional and alternative energy resources.

The milestones are: a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for geological and geophysical studies, such as seismic surveys, off the Atlantic coast; and the notice of availability of the Draft Proposed 2010-2015 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program and notice of intent to prepare an EIS for that program.

"MMS has been working tirelessly to facilitate the responsible development of our domestic energy resources and expand our nation’s energy portfolio," said MMS Director Randall Luthi. "Today, we are presenting options to the next Administration. The final decisions regarding the next steps are theirs."

Luthi highlighted $3.8 million in Fiscal Year 2008 funding for environmental research related to offshore alternative energy development.

"While we anxiously await the publication of the Final Rule governing the OCS Alternative Energy Program, we are moving forward with important environmental work to ensure we have the best available scientific data upon which to base our decisions," Luthi said. "As with the development of traditional sources of energy such as oil and gas, we must use a balanced approach to developing alternative energy resources, weighing the nation’s demand for energy with our responsibility to protect and preserve the environment."

MMS submitted the Final Rule for the OCS Alternative Energy Program to the Office of Management and Budget for review and approval in November.

Luthi also announced the notice of availability of the Draft Proposed 2010-2015 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program (DPP) and a notice of intent to prepare an EIS for the DPP. The two notices will be published in the Federal Register January 21 beginning a 60-day public comment period.

"We're basically giving the next Administration a two-year head start," Luthi said. "This is a multi-step, multi-year process with a full environmental review and several opportunities for input from the states, other government agencies and interested parties, and the general public."

The agency estimates the OCS contains about 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in yet to be discovered fields.

These numbers are conservative because little exploration has been conducted in much of those areas during the past quarter of a century due to the Executive and Congressional restrictions.

In response to the lifting of the Executive ban and the expiration of the restrictions included in previous Congressional Appropriations language, industry has begun submitting requests to MMS to conduct geological and geophysical studies, such as seismic surveys, in the Atlantic planning areas. Before making a decision on such requests, the agency must first conduct the necessary environmental reviews in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"In order to move forward with expanded exploration and development responsibly, we need current data. That is why we are also announcing today our intent to prepare a programmatic EIS to evaluate potential environmental effects of multiple geological and geophysical studies in the Atlantic OCS planning areas," Luthi said.

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