OCS Access Debate Continues

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that while it remained concerned about environmental assessments performed for the 2007-12 five-year program, those concerns were restricted to the lease sales planned for the Arctic Ocean and Alaska outer continental shelf (OCS).

The July 28 ruling came in response to a U.S. Department of Interior query.

“I am pleased with the Court’s decision,” stated Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Consistent with the department’s request, the court clarified that its prior ruling only applies to the Chukchi, Beaufort Sea and Bering Seas. We are moving forward with the planned Aug. 19 Gulf of Mexico lease sale.”

Earlier in July the Interior Department had announced it would proceed with the August lease sale of approximately 3,400 tracts offshore Texas, but only if the D.C. court clarified the intent of its April 17 ruling before the sale date.

In that ruling, the court found that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) had performed inadequate scientific and environmental impact assessments, specifically in the Arctic region. Consequently, it vacated – essentially suspended – the 2007-12 five-year program.

The wording suggested the court was applying it to the entire five-year program, rather than specific lease sales. This left the Interior and MMS with no mechanism to lease the nation’s OCS – and companies holding leases from previous sales under the program in legal limbo.

But the new ruling clarified that the court’s decision applies only to Arctic and Alaska regions, permitting MMS to resume leasing in other areas as planned under the 2007-12 five-year program.

At the same time, however, it is working on a new and overlapping 2010-15 five-year program, which is now in the first of several public comment phases.


For more than two decades much of the OCS was off-limits to oil and natural gas exploration and production. Other than the central and western Gulf of Mexico, and recently some parts of Alaska, the OCS was either under a Congressional moratorium or a presidential withdrawal for all exploration and production activities.

During this period, AAPG articulated its support of access to the nation’s OCS for responsible resource development, issuing two statements on the topic:

Both statements can be found on the Division of Professional Affairs site.

The lack of access for exploration and production caused great consternation for the industry, but at least it was predictable: Nothing was going to happen outside those few areas open for leasing.

But the summer of 2008 changed all that. As crude oil prices approached $150 per barrel, then –U.S. President George W. Bush removed the presidential withdrawal from OCS leasing. High gasoline prices and election year politicking successfully pressured Congress to permit its moratorium to lapse, which it did Sept. 30, 2008.

For the first time in many years there were now no external forces preventing leasing of the nation’s OCS. But by law such leases occur only within the context of a five-year program developed by MMS. These programs are created through a proscribed process that takes several years and provides multiple opportunities for comment from interested stakeholders.

Thus, in order for MMS to lease any acreage previously under moratorium, that acreage would have to be included in a five-year program.

On this past Jan. 16, just four days before leaving office, the Bush administration issued a proposed five-year program draft for 60 days of public comment. The proposed program would cover years 2010 to 2015 and include lease sales of the previously excluded areas.

In early February, newly confirmed Interior Secretary Salazar extended the public comment period to six months. This bought the Obama administration time to consider its options. He ordered the U.S. Geological Survey and MMS to report within 45 days the expected resource potential on the OCS, and held four town hall meetings across the country with elected leaders and the public to solicit their views on OCS development.

Now the MMS is collecting comments from all interested stakeholders, and the deadline is Sept. 21.


The United States currently is debating access to federal lands for development of many types of resources: oil, natural gas, coal, uranium and other minerals. While this MMS comment period is about the OCS, it is actually about the broader principle of access, which affects all resource developers.

AAPG’s view on this issue is clear: As an Association we support access to federal lands for exploration and production of petroleum and mineral resources.

It must be done safely. It must be done responsibly. But it must be done. These resources are the foundation of our economy and our society.

If you have not already commented on this issue, I would encourage you to do so immediately. Visit the GEO-DC Web page to link to a prepared letter that you can modify and send to MMS through the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Now is the time to act.

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

Desktop /Portals/0/images/_site/AAPG-newlogo-vertical-morepadding.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 16538 Book

See Also: Bulletin Article

Regional variations in thickness and facies of clastic sediments are controlled by geographic location within a foreland basin. Preservation of facies is dependent on the original accommodation space available during deposition and ultimately by tectonic modification of the foreland in its postthrusting stages. The preservation of facies within the foreland basin and during the modification stage affects the kinds of hydrocarbon reservoirs that are present.

This is the case for the Cretaceous Mowry Shale and Frontier Formation and equivalent strata in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Biostratigraphically constrained isopach maps of three intervals within these formations provide a control on eustatic variations in sea level, which allow depositional patterns across dip and along strike to be interpreted in terms of relationship to thrust progression and depositional topography.

The most highly subsiding parts of the Rocky Mountain foreland basin, near the fold and thrust belt to the west, typically contain a low number of coarse-grained sandstone channels but limited sandstone reservoirs. However, where subsidence is greater than sediment supply, the foredeep contains stacked deltaic sandstones, coal, and preserved transgressive marine shales in mainly conformable successions. The main exploration play in this area is currently coalbed gas, but the enhanced coal thickness combined with a Mowry marine shale source rock indicates that a low-permeability, basin-centered play may exist somewhere along strike in a deep part of the basin.

In the slower subsiding parts of the foreland basin, marginal marine and fluvial sandstones are amalgamated and compartmentalized by unconformities, providing conditions for the development of stratigraphic and combination traps, especially in areas of repeated reactivation. Areas of medium accommodation in the most distal parts of the foreland contain isolated marginal marine shoreface and deltaic sandstones that were deposited at or near sea level lowstand and were reworked landward by ravinement and longshore currents by storms creating stratigraphic or combination traps enclosed with marine shale seals.

Paleogeographic reconstructions are used to show exploration fairways of the different play types present in the Laramide-modified, Cretaceous foreland basin. Existing oil and gas fields from these plays show a relatively consistent volume of hydrocarbons, which results from the partitioning of facies within the different parts of the foreland basin.

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/controls-on-the-deposition-and-preservation.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 3743 Bulletin Article
We use samples from undeformed and deformed sandstones (single deformation band, deformation band cluster, slip-surface cataclasite, and fault core slip zone) to characterize their petrophysical properties (porosity, permeability, and capillary pressure). Relationships between permeability and porosity are described by power-law regressions where the power-law exponent (D) decreases with the increasing degree of deformation (strain) experienced by the sample from host rock (D, sim9) to fault core (D, sim5). The approaches introduced in this work will allow geologists to use permeability and/or porosity measurements to estimate the capillary pressures and sealing capacity of different fault-related rocks without requiring direct laboratory measurements of capillary pressure. Results show that fault core slip zones have the highest theoretical sealing capacity (gt140-m [459-ft] oil column in extreme cases), although our calculations suggest that deformation bands can locally act as efficiently as fault core slip zones in sealing nonwetting fluids (in this study, oil and CO2). Higher interfacial tension between brine and CO2 (because of the sensitivity of CO2 to temperature and pressure) results in higher capillary pressure and sealing capacity in a brine and CO2 system than a brine and oil system for the same samples.
Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/insight-into-petrophysical-properties.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 3716 Bulletin Article

See Also: Education Conference

Five Great Days of the Finest Geoscience Training for One Low Price. Three concurrent sessions to mix and match according to your interests and training needs. Lunch Buffet and refreshments included each day. CEU’s for each course.

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/2015-FEC-hero-color.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 17699 Education Conference

See Also: Energy Policy Blog

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Venezuela, Algeria,  Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria and Qatar) seems less of a menace now that the United States oil and natural gas production is booming. But OPEC continues to be a major exporter that can influence global oil supply and prices. However, OPEC countries are very dependent on export revenues to provide the jobs and services demanded by their populations, so a major shift in production volumes and prices is unlikely.

Desktop /Portals/0/PackFlashItemImages/WebReady/remember-opec-2014-05may-07.jpg?width=50&h=50&mode=crop&anchor=middlecenter&quality=90amp;encoder=freeimage&progressive=true 12897 Energy Policy Blog