By Lori LeBlanc, LMOGA Offshore Committee Director for BIC Magazine
Areas that were once off-limits for offshore oil and gas production could become significant contributors to American energy dominance if key provisions of a draft proposed offshore leasing program remain intact following the current public comment period.
On January 4, U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke released the draft of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of total OCS acreage available for future exploration and development and proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history. By comparison, the current OCS program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits to oil and gas development, forcing us to import what we otherwise could produce ourselves.
Here in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most productive basins in the world, the Draft Proposed Program plans lease sales in the western, central and eastern Gulf, including areas in the central and eastern Gulf restricted since 1988 by a Congressional moratorium that will expire in 2022. Also proposed are lease sales off the Alaskan coast and along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, which have been closed to leasing since the mid 1980’s as well.
At LMOGA, we are optimistic about the opportunity that the draft proposed program provides our country to become a world leader in energy production. We appreciate this administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for recognizing the full potential of increasing access in OCS areas like Alaska, Atlantic, Pacific, and especially in the Gulf of Mexico where there are vast amounts of unexplored natural resources.
By increasing OCS access, the U.S. will maximize its abundant OCS oil and gas resources in a responsible manner to produce more dependable energy, create thousands more good-paying jobs and providing immense economic stability for Americans everywhere. The Gulf of Mexico, for example, accounts for nearly one-fifth of our nation’s oil production and contributes over $5 to $8 billion dollars directly to the U.S. Treasury each year — making it the second largest revenue stream for the federal government. Imagine what the benefit would be to the federal treasury if this activity in the Gulf is expanded to offshore waters around all of our coasts.
The DOI is accepting public comment on this Draft Proposed Program until March 9, 2018, which will be followed by the release of the Proposed Program with public comment period, and then the Proposed Final Program with public comment period before the Final National OCS Program for 2019-2024 is approved, possibly at the end of this year. This robust vetting process is essential and, as we have read and heard over the past two months, the draft proposal has its champions and its detractors. In fact, as I write this article, the plan is already being altered by those opposing it.
In the end, the members of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) are hopeful that the Final 2019-2024 National OCS Program will unleash America’s oil and gas potential and move this nation to not only energy independence, but to energy dominance in the world economy.