Obama Closes Parts of Outer Continental Shelf to Oil and Gas Leasing

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2010 (ENS) – The Obama administration has removed an area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium, and parts of the Mid and South Atlantic from consideration for potential oil and gas development through 2017.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the updated oil and gas leasing strategy for the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic will continue to be considered for potential leasing before 2017.

Based on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the department has “raised the bar” in the drilling and production stages for equipment, safety, environmental safeguards, and oversight, Salazar said.

“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime,” said Secretary Salazar.

“As that regime continues to be developed and implemented, we have revised our initial March leasing strategy to focus and expend our critical resources on areas with leases that are currently active. Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation’s energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities,” he said.

Oil rigs off the coast of California (Photo by K.K. Condon)

Consistent with President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on National Ocean Policy, today’s modified plan confirms many actions announced in March, including environmental analysis to determine whether seismic studies should be conducted in the Mid and South Atlantic, and rigorous scientific analysis of the Arctic to determine if future oil and gas development could be conducted safely there.

Lease sales in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico under the 2007-2012 program are currently scheduled to begin in approximately 12 months, after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, BOEMRE, completes appropriate environmental analyses that take into account effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Analyses and public meetings will be held to help determine if additional lease sales in these areas should proceed as part of the 2012-2017 program.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard warned that the move could result in the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs, billions less in government revenues and an increasing dependence on foreign energy sources.

“The oil and natural gas industry is a reliable vehicle for growing the economy and creating good-paying jobs,” said Gerard, whose organization represents more than 400 oil and natural gas companies. “This decision shuts the door on new development off our nation’s coasts and effectively ensures that new American jobs will not be realized. It will stifle investment, deny billions in revenue for critical government services and increase our dependence on foreign energy sources.”

“The oil and natural gas industry is committed to safe and environmentally responsible operations, and both the industry and regulators have added new safeguards to ensure such operations,” Gerard said. “This reversal on new lease sales off America’s coasts comes on top of a de facto moratorium, which has all but stopped new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.”

In connection with today’s announcement, BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich said that he is in the process of completing an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through which NOAA will collaborate with BOEMRE in the environmental analyses for planning for development on the Outer Continental Shelf.

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