Latest five-year OCS lease proposal includes Alaska
By MARY KAUFFMAN
March 19, 2016
After receiving extensive public input and analyzing the best available scientific data, the Proposed Program released Tuesday evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas – 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales off the coast of Alaska. According to the Department of Interior, the Proposed Program does not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area due to current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.
“This is a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Secretary Jewell. “The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure. At the same time, the proposal removes other areas from consideration for leasing, and seeks input on measures to further reduce potential impacts to the environment, coastal communities, and competing ocean and coastal uses, such as subsistence activities by Alaska Natives.”
The Proposed Program evaluates one potential sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas, while taking comment on other options, including an alternative that includes no new leasing, as well as other measures to protect natural resources and reduce conflicts with other ocean uses, such as subsistence activities.
Governor Bill Walker commented on the announcement saying, “Secretary Sally Jewell informed me [Monday] that the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Proposed Plan for leasing in the OCS will include the Cook Inlet and both the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea Planning Areas. This is good news for Alaska. [Tuesday's] announcement gives Alaska flexibility in planning beyond the current price conditions."
Walker said, "I am pleased Secretary Jewell made the decision to include one lease sale in each of the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Cook Inlet Planning Areas in the department’s new five-year plan. Over the past year, I have had many meetings with Secretary Jewell to discuss our access to our resources. In those meetings, I emphasized to her the need for forward planning and ensuring that Alaska is part of the Interior’s five-year leasing plan. Secretary Jewell and I have not always agreed on issues affecting Alaska, but I’m pleased that we can work with the federal government on this particular topic."
Map: 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program
During the public meetings to scope the Environmental Impact Statement, several North Slope communities noted additional areas that may not be appropriate for oil and gas leasing. Using significant input and traditional knowledge from these communities, as well as other public comments and the best available science, BOEM has identified several areas where there is potential conflict between oil and gas activities and important ecological resources and subsistence activities. These areas are labeled “environmentally important areas” in the EIS and are analyzed therein. BOEM is seeking additional public input, particularly from Alaskan communities, regarding the resources and activities in those areas.
Additionally, in a Joint Statement with Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau last week, President Obama announced principles for Arctic leadership, including a commitment to ensure that any commercial activities in the Arctic will occur only when the highest safety and environmental standards are met, including national and global climate and environmental goals, and Indigenous rights and agreements. As BOEM moves forward with offshore oil and gas planning, the agency will work with Canada to meet the world-class standard for Arctic stewardship set by the two nations.
“We know the Arctic is a unique place of critical importance to many – including Alaska Natives who rely on the ocean for subsistence,” added Jewell. “As we put together the final proposal, we want to hear from the public to help determine whether these areas are appropriate for future leasing and how we can protect environmental, cultural and subsistence resources.”
President Obama in January 2015 designated portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off limits from consideration for future oil and gas leasing in order to protect areas of critical importance to subsistence use by Alaska Natives, as well as for their unique and sensitive environmental resources. In December 2014, President Obama similarly placed the waters of Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development, protecting an area known for its world-class fisheries and stunning beauty.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski commented on the announcement saying, “The administration’s decision to maintain a limited number of lease sales in the Alaskan offshore and recognition of the importance of consultation with Alaskans is welcome news. However, the administration’s decision to cancel a sale in the Atlantic offshore – the second time it has made such a reversal – undermines the energy security of our country and is an ominous warning to Alaskans. As easily as the Atlantic was taken off the table, the proposed sales in the Cook Inlet, Beaufort Sea, and the Chukchi Sea could suffer the same fate in further reviews. Simply put, we kept the bare minimum that we asked for last year – just three sales and additional consultations with Alaskans before any additional restrictions are considered. Now all Alaskans must rally to remain vigilant and defend this small victory. Further, we must continue our work to create a predictable regulatory and commercial environment as well as revenue sharing for the state and local interests.”
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) in a prepared statement said, “While on the surface the Department of the Interior’s proposed OCS lease plan – which includes acreage in Cook Inlet and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas – sounds positive, it’s akin to a car dealership announcing a lease sale without providing any keys. For production to be realized and for Alaska to benefit, there needs to be regulatory certainty and a willingness on the part of the Executive Branch to work with, instead of against, lease holders. The energy industry was watching Shell’s ordeal in the Arctic closely. Largely as a result of confusing and conflicting regulations, that company spent seven years and $7 billion to drill a single well. Few, if any companies, could afford a repeat.”
“For years, the Obama Administration has sent crippling blows to the Alaskan people by forging ahead with policies and programs that make it nearly impossible to pursue any new forms of responsible resource development," said Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) in a prepared statement. "While Alaska doesn’t necessary lose footing in its fight for new development opportunities in [Tuesday's] Proposed Program, the plan does nothing to roll back the harmful decision last year to take massive portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the table for future oil and gas leases. Likewise, [Tuesday's] announcement leaves the door open for further areas to be put off limits as the Program is finalized," said Young.
Young said, “The three lease proposals announced [Tuesday] contain vast amounts of resources, and it was very important that they remained on the table in the Proposed Program issued today. However, considering the insurmountable regulatory burdens put in place by the DOI during Shell’s OCS exploration, I have little confidence potential bidders will come forward on the two Arctic lease sales. Unless the DOI and the agencies under its umbrella work to create a regulatory environment that truly gives exploration a chance, I have no expectation for successful development in the Arctic under the Obama administration. I find little rejoice in the inadequate number of lease sales being offered today and the regulatory environment under which they are being released.”
“Opening new areas for drilling in the Arctic Ocean, is not only risky, it’s unnecessary,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “We need to focus on other sources of energy that don’t put people, birds and other wildlife in danger. Spills under ice sheets are uncontrollable and the ability to respond to emergencies is pitifully inadequate.”
“In their joint statement last week, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to protect 10% of Arctic marine areas, and we applaud that pledge,” said Susan Culliney, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Associate. “We need the president to follow through and preserve the opportunity to come back and protect key areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas with high ecological value. Places like the Beaufort Sea Nearshore Important Bird Area, which holds significant numbers of King Eiders, Red-throated Loons, and Pacific Black Brant, as well as nearly 30 percent of North America’s Long-tailed Ducks. A major spill in the Arctic Ocean would make responding to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster look easy.”
Before the program is finalized and before any lease sales occur, the Department will consider another round of public input on the proposal and its accompanying Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Tuesday's proposal was informed by more than one million comments, 23 public meetings and extensive outreach with members of the public, non-profit organizations, industry, elected officials and other interested parties across the country.
“Public input is paramount to our planning process, and the proposal benefits from extensive stakeholder engagement,” said Director Hopper. “We will seek additional input from citizens, industry, other Federal and state agencies and elected officials as we develop the proposed final program.”
The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a Five-Year Program that includes a schedule of potential oil and gas lease sales and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing determined to best meet national energy needs, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management currently manages approximately 5,000 active OCS leases, covering more than 26 million acres – the vast majority in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2015, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for about 16 percent of domestic oil production and five percent of domestic natural gas production. This production generates billions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments and the U.S. taxpayer, while supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In conjunction with the announcement of the Proposed Program, the Department of Interior is also publishing a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Proposed Program and Draft Programmatic EIS will be available for public comment following the publication of the documents in the Federal Register. BOEM will hold public scoping meetings for areas included in the Proposed Program and will accept comments for 90 days on the Proposed Program and for 45 days on the Draft Programmatic EIS.
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