What’s at Stake with Offshore Energy?

Oil_platform_P-51_(Brazil) offshore rig

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – which manages the leasing of our national Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for energy development – is currently developing its next five-year leasing plan for 2017-2022. This plan is a critical part of America’s energy policy as it directly affects when and where offshore oil and natural gas resources will be developed.

A recently released draft of the plan includes some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the good news.

Nearly five years after the Obama Administration canceled a proposed lease sale off Virginia, offshore development in the Atlantic is back on the table for consideration. Governors from Virginia south to Georgia called on the federal government last summer to ensure that Atlantic leasing be considered. Statutorily, the Secretary of the Interior must prioritize the input of coastal governors, and thankfully she’s decided to listen to the will of the governors – and Atlantic Coast residents. New polls show overwhelming support for offshore drilling by Virginians (65%), North Carolinians (71%), South Carolinians (71%), and Georgians (77%).

Why such strong support for Atlantic OCS development? A recent study shows that more than 130,000 jobs and $62 billion in local spending could result in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia by tapping the conservatively estimated 3 billion barrels of oil in the area.

Farther south, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in the Gulf of Mexico. The region has been an energy powerhouse for decades supplying 18 percent of our domestic oil production and spurring job development across the Gulf Coast. While the draft plan continues to include robust opportunities for leasing and development in the Western and Central areas of the Gulf of Mexico, most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico remains offline due to a congressional moratorium. For the Gulf to reach its full potential and further American energy self-sufficiency, the federal government should have taken the steps now to prepare for responsible development of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, but unfortunately they chose to close this area of tremendous potential.

Finally, thousands of miles from the Gulf Coast, waters north of Alaska contain some of the world’s largest untapped reserves. While the draft plan does include leasing opportunities in the U.S. Arctic (Chukchi and Beaufort Seas) and in the Cook Inlet, it remains highly uncertain whether these leases will actually occur. The Obama Administration has slow-rolled programs on existing leases and upcoming leases, so at this stage it’s hard to imagine these proposed leases in the 2017-2022 plan would ever take place.

And here comes the bad news. The proposed plan withdraws significant areas off Alaska from leasing consideration – and Alaskan leaders claim this was done with little to no input from them.

So what does this plan mean for consumers and how should the public engage?

As part of the public comment period process, the federal government is asking the public for information on how “the size, timing, and location of leasing activity” could affect various economic and environmental objectives of our nation. Under this criteria, offshore energy is a win-win.

For starters, the energy potential is enormous.  BOEM estimates that the U.S. OCS holds approximately 90 billion barrels of oil and more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which are technically recoverable. While we’re producing more oil and natural gas domestically than we have in decades, the United States still relies on imported oil to meet demand and will continue to do so in the absence of new resource development. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated in its 2014 Annual Energy Outlook that U.S. crude oil production may only meet 50 percent of demand in 2030 and 45 percent of demand in 2040. So, we need to add new areas of development to our portfolio if we’re serious about pursuing energy self-sufficiency.

For our national and environmental security, American resources also further our objectives. New oil fields don’t come online overnight; for large reserves like the OCS it can take years to bring oil to market. Planning for our nation’s long-term energy future requires that policy makers take the steps now to grant access to resources so that in 10 to 15 years and beyond our children and grandchildren can benefit from reliable sources of energy.

For our environment, U.S. offshore energy development will take place under some of the world’s strictest safety and environmental protection standards. Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, regulators and industry have taken unprecedented steps to bolster the safety of offshore drilling. As BOEM addresses in its proposal, OCS operations must comply with a multitude of requirements, including what the Interior Secretary has called “the most aggressive and comprehensive offshore oil and gas regulatory reforms in the nation’s history.” Industry has also taken significant and voluntary measures in recent years, including creating two new entities capable of providing well containment assistance in the event of a loss of well control in waters located far offshore, and sponsoring the establishment of the new Center for Offshore Safety.

Given all the economic, consumer and environmental benefits, Consumer Energy Alliance is urging our friends to write to BOEM before March 30 with the following asks (included on our Call to Action):

  • Conduct a wide-ranging environmental assessment of all proposed areas.
  • Continue to include all proposed lease sales in the Atlantic, off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico in the next iteration of the plan.
  • Do not remove any additional areas for potential consideration.

To submit a letter by March 30, please visit Consumer Energy Alliance’s Action Center and submit a letter TODAY.