Wednesday, February 11, 2009

DOI Secretary Salazar Details Strategy For Offshore OCS Energy

Feb 10: Saying he needed to restore order to a broken process, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced his strategy for developing an offshore energy plan that includes both conventional and renewable resources. His strategy calls for extending the public comment period on a proposed 5-year plan for oil and gas development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) by 180 days; assembling a detailed report from Interior agencies on conventional and renewable offshore energy resources; holding four regional conferences to review the findings; and expediting renewable energy rulemaking for the Outer Continental Shelf. Salazar said, “To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside the Bush Administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timeline."

In a news release, DOI indicated that on Friday, January 16, its last business day in office, the Bush Administration proposed a new five year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing. The proposal was actually published in the Federal Register on January 21, the day after the new Administration took office. The deadline for public comment that the Bush Administration established does not provide enough time for public review or for wise decisions on behalf of taxpayers. At the time of the Bush Administration proposal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded the Minerals Management Service (MMS) proposal to lease newly-available areas in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for oil and gas exploration and development from 2010 to 2015 [See WIMS 1/21/09]. The MMS, under the Department of Interior published its notice on January 21, 2009 in the Federal Register [74 FR 3631-3635]. The Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP) was originally proposed for comments extending through March 23, 2009. DOI indicated that by adding the 180 day extension to the original 60-day period, interested parties will have had a total of 240 days (8 months) to comment on the proposed plan.

Salazar said, “The additional time we are providing will give states, stakeholders, and affected communities the opportunity to provide input on the future of our offshore areas. The additional time will allow us to restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning.” He said the evaluation of the proposed plan also needed better information about what resources may be available in the offshore areas. He indicated, “In the biggest area that the Bush Administration’s draft OCS plan proposes for oil and gas drilling -- the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to Florida -- our data on available resources is very thin, and what little we have is twenty to thirty years old. We shouldn’t make decisions to sell off taxpayer resources based on old information.”

Salazar directed the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the MMS, and other departmental scientists to assemble all the information available about the offshore resources -- conventional and renewable -- along with information about potential impacts. The report is due in 45 days. Based on that report, the Department will then determine what areas need more information and create a plan for gathering that information. The Department of the Interior oversees more than 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf -- an area roughly three fourths of the size of the entire United States.

The strategy will also build a framework for offshore renewable energy development, so that the Department can incorporate the significant potential for wind, wave, and ocean current. He said, “The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts. I intend to issue a final rulemaking for offshore renewables in the coming months, so that potential developers know the rules of the road. This rulemaking will allow us to move from the ‘oil and gas only’ approach of the previous Administration to the comprehensive energy plan that we need.”

Last September, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution that did not include language extending the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Offshore Drilling Ban [See WIMS 9/24/08 & 9/29/08]. The previous ban expired on September 30, 2008. At the time Democrats indicated that the actions did not necessarily reflect a major shift in the Democratic position on offshore drilling, but they said it was a short-term concession to President Bush to keep the government running until a new President and Congress began work this year.

Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said, “Secretary Salazar’s strategy for developing offshore energy is both thoughtful and balanced. Public opinion on offshore development varies from region to region, so his plan to hold regional conferences makes a good deal of sense. I appreciate the Secretary’s initiative in taking on this issue and look forward to working with him on it.”

American Petroleum Institute (API) President Jack Gerard commented on Salazar's plan and said, "Congress made the American people wait nearly 30 years to address our immediate energy challenges. Secretary Salazar today told the American people they must continue to wait -- even though more than two-thirds of them want to tap our vast domestic resources for the benefit of all Americans. . . The draft plan already received a record 120,000 comments from states, environmental groups, industry, labor groups and members of the public – with 87,000 of those comments supporting expanded and expeditious development. Secretary Salazar’s announcement means that development of our offshore resources could be stalled indefinitely. That would delay Americans’ access to nearly 160,000 new, well-paying jobs, $1.7 trillion in revenues to federal, state and local governments and greater energy security."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce commented saying, "With America's continued reliance on imported oil, we urge the Obama Administration to not let bureaucratic processes slow down the path to energy security. Expanding domestic production will reduce America's dependence on imported oil and significantly reduce the billions of dollars we send abroad each year for energy. Producing American energy on and off our shores has the potential to be an engine of economic growth creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating more than $1 trillion in royalty revenue to the government."

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) President & CEO Cal Dooley commented saying, "ACC applauds Secretary Salazar for making the development of a comprehensive energy policy a top priority. . . “We are encouraged by the bipartisan support in Congress last year for lifting the moratoria on offshore domestic energy development. Clearly, consensus has developed around the need for OCS energy to be part of America’s energy equation. We cannot begin soon enough to reshape U.S. energy policy in a way that drives demand for American goods and services, including chemistry; maintains and expands America’s job base; adds leasing revenues to the Treasury; helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and advances our security."

Sierra Club issued a statement saying, "Energy independence and jobs will be won by investing in clean energy, not by handing over our coasts to the oil industry. The Obama administration clearly understands that. President Bush's last-minute offshore drilling plan could have been written by oil industry executives. It was not based on science, was not subject to public review, did not consider the best interest of coastal communities, and ignored clean energy options. Revising this drilling plan is an important first step in getting our new energy economy on track."

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a statement saying, "There’s a new way of doing business at the Department of Interior under Secretary Salazar. By committing to a thorough review, Salazar is demonstrating bold leadership that will offer America a new energy future that provides clean domestic energy and cuts our dependence on foreign oil. . . New offshore drilling would risk oil spills from Florida to Maine, and all along the Pacific Coast. This would not only cause tremendous economic damage to fishing and tourism communities, but it would destroy habitat for wildlife, and hurt all of us who live, work and vacation in these places."

Access a release from DOI (
click here). Access the statement from Senator Bingaman (click here). Access a release from API and link to a fact sheet (click here). Access a release from the U.S. Chamber (click here). Access the ACC statement (click here). Access a statement from Sierra Club (click here). Access a statement from NRDC (click here). [*Energy/OCS, *Water]