On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, the Department of Interior announced its proposed five-year plan for offshore leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The program addresses future plans for oil and gas leasing from 2012 to 2017 with fifteen potential oil and gas lease sales. The plan provides for twelve lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska. The release of the plan is the first since the Administration abandoned the proposed OCS program back in 2009.
In 1953, the federal government enacted the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) in order to define OCS submerged lands and enable the Interior Secretary to administer mineral exploration and development off our nation’s coastline. The OCSLA empowers the Interior Secretary to provide oil and gas leases to the highest qualified bidder and establishes guidelines for implementing an OCS oil and gas exploration and development program.
According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a 5-year OCS program “consists of a schedule of oil and gas lease sales indicating the size, timing, and location of proposed leasing activity the Secretary determines will best meet national energy needs for the 5-year period following its approval.” Section 18 of the OCSLA sets forth guidelines for developing a 5-year program in order to address national energy needs, environmental considerations, and numerous other factors specified in the law.
The Interior Department’s establishment of a long-awaited 5-year plan is an encouraging first step. However, many Americans should have concerns that this new plan does not go far enough and unfortunately restricts access to a large majority of offshore resources. Without a doubt, this plan will set us back as a nation and do little to provide job growth and energy security.
The previous plan abandoned in 2009 opened access to resources in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, California, Alaska, and the Atlantic Coast. In this new plan those resources are now off limits. That means bad news for consumers, who year after year suffer from high energy prices in these tough economic times. But most importantly, this means bad news for our long-term energy needs.
The new plan calls for a decrease in lease sales for offshore development. Customarily, OCS plans have provided for an average of five lease sales throughout any given year. The 2012-2017 plan cuts those lease offerings in half. This comes at a great surprise, when earlier this year the Administration announced its commitment to reducing oil imports by one-third by 2025. It is difficult to believe that a plan restricting access and limiting lease offerings can achieve that lofty goal.
The proposed plan calls for the Interior Secretary to adopt a “target region specific plan.” In other words, that’s a bureaucratic way of saying that the resources that will be available for exploration will remain only in the Gulf of Mexico and limited areas in Alaska. Across the globe, nations are taking necessary steps to increase energy production and exploit their offshore reserves. Countries like Brazil, Columbia, many in the Middle East, and even our Cuban neighbors understand the economic importance of offshore drilling and increasing domestic oil supplies.
We, however, have chosen to scale back.