Process Begins to Open OCS to Exploration

The media had been buzzing all morning with news that the administration was planning to open additional areas of the outer continental shelf (OCS) to exploration and production as part of a new energy plan.

Flash bulbs popped as President Obama strode to the podium to announce his new energy initiative at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland on March 31. In his remarks, he acknowledged the decision to open additional offshore acreage to leasing was difficult.

“But the bottom line is this,” the president said: “Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”

The president’s plan combined a bit of old and new business. First, it responded to legal concerns raised about the current 2007-12 five-year program and outlines the administration’s plans for a new 2012-17 five-year program. The five-year programs are the formal process the Minerals Management Service uses to plan and conduct oil and gas lease sales on the nation’s OCS.

It also announced aggressive new fuel standards for cars and light trucks; that the federal government was expanding its fleet of hybrid vehicles and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles; and that the Department of Defense was looking at opportunities to diversify away from fossil fuels.

In announcing the Administration’s strategy for the OCS, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar framed it in the context of “finally cutting America’s dependence on foreign oil, building a clean energy economy that is more secure and prosperous, and protecting our children from the dangers of pollution.

“But no single energy source is enough,” the secretary continued. “Oil. Gas. Coal. Nuclear. Sun. Wind. Geothermal. Biofuels. Hydropower. They all need to be on the table.”

The Department of Interior announced a preliminary revised program for the current 2007-12 five-year program that responded to the concerns raised by the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals about the environmental analysis that had gone into inclusion of Alaska and Arctic regions in the original program (Washington Watch September 2009).

Interior conducted additional environmental sensitivity analysis to develop the revised proposal, looking specifically at the “the sensitivity to oil spills and other factors, such as sound and physical disturbance, and increased sensitivity due to climate change and ocean acidification.”

As a result of this analysis, the secretary made the following determinations:

  • Existing leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort will be honored, as will awards made in the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale. However, the secretary removed future lease sales in this region during the current five-year program.
  • The Cook Inlet sale in 2009 was cancelled for lack of interest, but a future lease sale will remain on the schedule.
  • The Bristol Bay area will not have a lease sale, and President Obama signed an executive order withdrawing Bristol Bay from future consideration during the term of his presidency.
  • Lease sales in Virginia and the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico will proceed according to plan, subject to standard reviews of environmental and military activity impact. The secretary plans to make a final decision on the Virginia lease sale by late 2011 or early 2012.

Interior opened a 30-day public comment period on the revised 2007-12 five-year program. After review of those comments, the secretary would issue the final program and the department would then work expeditiously with the D.C. district court to conclude the matter.

The newly proposed 2012-17 five-year program is the administration’s response to an extensive review of the OCS leasing program Secretary Salazar launched shortly after being confirmed. This review was prompted by an accelerated five-year program launched by the Bush administration in its final months in office, and which Salazar elected not to continue.

Instead, in its 2012-17 program the administration will:

  • Open the mid- and south-Atlantic areas. The North Atlantic remains closed.
  • Open a portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, subject to Congress lifting a moratorium on oil and gas activity in that part of the Gulf. The portion under consideration is 125 miles off Florida’s western coast, and according to the Interior department contains two-thirds of the area’s undiscovered, economically recoverable resource.
  • The Chukchi and Beaufort seas are open, with the administration expecting results and insights developed during the exploration and development of current leases to help inform the decision to proceed with future lease sales in these areas.
  • The Pacific Coast of the contiguous 48 states remains closed.

The inclusion of these areas in the announcement of the 2012-17 five-year program does not guarantee there will be lease sales, exploration or production in all of these areas. They still must clear the scoping hearings, environmental and other reviews.

But that process can now begin.

Comments (0)


Washington Watch

Washington Watch - David Curtiss

David Curtiss served as the Director of AAPG’s Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. from 2008-11.

Washington Watch

Washington Watch - Creties Jenkins

Creties Jenkins is a past president of the EMD.

Washington Watch

Washington Watch - Dan Smith

Dan Smith is chair of the Governance Board.

Washington Watch

Washington Watch - Peter MacKenzie

 Peter MacKenzie is vice chair of the Governance Board. 

Policy Watch

Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

View column archives

See Also: Book

Memoir 94 – Thrust fault-related folds form numerous important hydrocarbon traps in sub-aerial and deep-water fold and thrust belts as well as in inversion fold and thrust belts. This memoir presents 16 papers on new advances in the analysis and understanding of thrust-related fold systems including detachment folds, thrust-fault propagation folds, wedge thrust-related fold systems, and basement-involved fold systems.

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/book-m94-thrust-fault-related-folding-hero.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 3973 Book

See Also: Bulletin Article

Data derived from core and well-logs are essentially one-dimensional and determining eolian system type and likely dimensions and orientation of architectural elements present in subsurface eolian reservoir successions is typically not possible from direct observation alone. This is problematic because accurate predictions of the three-dimensional distribution of interdune and dune-plinth elements that commonly form relatively low-permeability baffles to flow, of net:gross, and of the likely distribution of elements with common porosity-permeability properties at a variety of scales in eolian reservoirs is crucial for effective reservoir characterization.

Direct measurement of a variety of parameters relating to aspects of the architecture of eolian elements preserved as ancient outcropping successions has enabled the establishment of a series of empirical relationships with which to make first-order predictions of a range of architectural parameters from subsurface successions that are not observable directly in core. In many preserved eolian dune successions, the distribution of primary lithofacies types tends to occur in a predictable manner for different types of dune sets, whereby the pattern of distribution of grain-flow, wind-ripple, and grain-fall strata can be related to set architecture, which itself can be related back to original bedform type.

Detailed characterization of individual eolian dune sets and relationships between neighboring dune and interdune elements has been undertaken through outcrop studies of the Permian Cedar Mesa Sandstone and the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone in southern Utah. The style of transition between lithofacies types seen vertically in preserved sets, and therefore measurable in analogous core intervals, enables predictions to be made regarding the relationship between preserved set thickness, individual grain-flow thickness, original bedform dimensional properties (e.g., wavelength and height), the likely proportion of the original bedform that is preserved to form a set, the angle of climb of the system, and the likely along-crest variability of facies distributions in sets generated by the migration of sinuous-crested bedforms. A series of graphical models depict common facies arrangements in bedsets for a suite of dune types and these demonstrate inherent facies variability.

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/reconstruction-of-three-dimensional-eolian-dune-architecture.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 3249 Bulletin Article

See Also: CD DVD

Desktop /Portals/0/images/_site/AAPG-newlogo-vertical-morepadding.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 4319 CD-DVD

See Also: Energy Policy Blog

Witnesses stated that BLM policies create unnecessary obstacles to oil and gas activities on federal lands at a recent House Natural Resources, Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee hearing: “Energy in America: BLM’s Red-Tape Run Around and its Impact on American Energy Production”

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/oil-and-gas-drilling-on-federal-lands-2014-02feb-24.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 12376 Energy Policy Blog

See Also: Online e Symposium

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/oc-es-eagle-ford-shale-prospecting-with-3d-seismic-data.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 1482 Online e-Symposium