This afternoon, the Department of the Interior released its proposed final five-year plan (PFP) for offshore oil and gas leasing. There’s really no way to sugarcoat this: today’s PFP is a major step backwards.
The five-year plan proposed in January 2009 would have made new areas along the Outer Continental Shelf, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, available for leasing; today’s plan limits leasing to the Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska. And it makes more areas off-limits than it makes available.
More than 85 percent of federal offshore acreage remains off-limits to development. According to a study by WoodMackenzie Energy Consulting, policies that encourage domestic oil and gas exploration could add $127 billion in government revenue, 1.1 million jobs and 4 million barrels’ worth of oil and natural gas per day. The PFP released today strongly suggests that job creation from increased oil and gas production is not as high a priority for the agency as other factors.
The PFP also ushers in a new leasing philosophy for the agency, what it calls a “regionally tailored” approach. According to the PFP, “Decisions about the OCS planning areas to be considered for potential leasing, as well as decisions about the configuration of individual lease sales within a planning area, must be based on the unique combination of resource potential, and environmental and social factors specific to individual OCS areas.”
What this appears to mean is that, as opposed to the past practice of leasing a tract and allowing the environmental review process to dictate exploration and mitigation, the agency will now preemptively take areas offline before even allowing environmental regulation to commence. We’ll see how this plays out, but the NAM is very concerned with Interior’s new approach to leasing.
Ross Eisenberg is vice president of energy and resources policy, National Association of Manufacturers.