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Parting Gift from Bushies: Offshore Oil Expansion Plans, But No Money to Proceed

News, Seismic Surveys Add comments

In the final days of the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service completed preliminary planning for offshore oil development on the Outer Continental Shelf along the entire eastern seaboard and the California coast.  For the past couple of years, MMS has been laying the groundwork for new drilling, as it became clear that Presidential and Congressional bans on offshore development first implemented in the early 1980’s and renewed ever since, would expire.  The recent documents outline 21 proposed lease areas, and announce plans to conduct a “programmatic” EIS to analyze environmental impacts of multiple seismic surveys off the coasts, as the areas are inventoried using modern surveying equipment (which makes lots of very widespread noise).  The strangest element in the “notice of intent” to conduct the EIS, which would be required before any exploration could take place, is that MMS notes that it has no money to conduct the study, and it actually solicits financial support from the oil and gas industry to keep the EIS moving, stating that it “welcomes participation from outside sources,” and that without funding, the EIS would likely not be completed in time for the 2010-2015 leasing period.  Below the fold, see the AEI News Digest coverage of this issue, including comments from MMS and incoming Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and links to the Notice of Intent and Congressional committee set to oversee OCS development.

MMS Begins Planning for New Offshore Oil Leases, Seismic Surveys – The Minerals Management Service released preliminary plans for a new round of oil and gas leases in areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that have been closed to drilling since the early 1980’s. MMS released two documents, one of which outlines 21 lease sales that could take place during the next 5-year planning period, 2010-2015. The second document was a Notice of Intent to begin a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement to investigate the environmental effects of multiple exploration activities on the Outer Continental Shelf, primarily seismic surveys. MMS Director Randall Luthi said, “Today, we are presenting options to the next Administration. The final decisions regarding the next steps are theirs. We’re basically giving the next Administration a two-year head start. This a multi-step, multi-year process with a full environmental review and several opportunities for input from the states, other government agencies and interested parties, and the general public.” Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, Obama’s choice as interior secretary, has indicated he likely will want to scale back the Bush administration’s offshore drilling agenda. “There are places in the Outer Continental Shelf that are appropriate for drilling. There may be other places that are off limits,” Salazar said Thursday during his Senate confirmation hearing. “We need to have a thoughtful process as we go forward.” The US House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources is scheduled to hold hearings on offshore drilling in early February. One key wildcard is the current lack of funding for MMS to complete the required EIS; the Notice of Intent notes that with funding, it could be completed by 2010, but without funding its future is uncertain; and, strangely, MMS even solicits investment from “outside sources” (presumably the oil and gas industry) to fund the research. Sources: AP, 1/16/09 [READ ARTICLE] Offshore Oil and Gas News, 1/16/09 [READ ARTICLE] MMS Press Release, 1/21/09 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Federal Register Notice, NOI, 1/20/09 [READ FR NOTICE] See Committee on Natural Resources Website (no schedule yet; keep checking): [WEBSITE]

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