Uncertainty Permeates Hearing on Gulf Oil and Gas Leases

Environmental impact statement may delay all auctions until 2012

NEW ORLEANS, La. – The Interior Department’s “public scoping” meeting, on the environmental impact of oil and gas leases, provided little hope for potential lessees. Tuesday’s opportunity for public submissions also failed to attract a crowd – approximately twenty individuals attended – but those that spoke emphasized the high stakes at play and the need for an expedited process.

Members of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement began their three-state Gulf tour in New Orleans, hearing concerns over what they ought to consider in their “supplemental environmental impact statement.” In their own opening statement they clarified that they were reconsidering the impact of more than 29,000 leases of nine-square-mile sections in the Western and Central planning areas of the Gulf of Mexico (pictured below). They also gave a timeline which suggested there will be no lease sales until May of 2012.

The consensus of those who gave oral submissions was that any impact statement need not be exorbitant. BOEMRE’s own speaker concurred and noted that an SEIS needs to be sufficient for an “informed decision” and should not be “encyclopedic.”

“A time-consuming supplemental environmental impact statement could hurt energy production, job creation, and revenue generation,” said Holly Hopkins of the American Petroleum Institute, who flew in from Washington, D.C. She also noted that the federal government would also lose out on its annual $2 billion revenue stream from Gulf lease sales.

However, that view did not appear likely to translate into a speedier SEIS process, which includes a draft in May of next year and then three opportunities for public comment before publication in December of 2011.

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Fergus Hodgson is the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected], and one can follow him on twitter.



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