Although the full ramifications of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico will not be apparent for years, we can clearly tell that the explosion and resultant oil spill is a seismic event for the offshore exploration and production community. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Interior Secretary ken Salazar announced plans to break the Minerals Management Service (MMS) into three separate agencies, dismissed the Director of the MMS, announced a six-month moratorium on all Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) permits, cancelled permits to drill exploratory wells off the Alaska coast this summer and initiated a comprehensive review of all OCS activities and permitting. The Secretary also cancelled Lease Sale 220 off the coast of Virginia, which had been scheduled for 2011. We have also seen a tremendous surge of activity from groups opposed to offshore drilling, as well as several proposals to ban offshore exploration and production from members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, DC.
Since our creation in 2006, the Southeast Energy Alliance and our members have written multiple letters to Congress and filed dozens of comments with the Department of the Interior (DOI) and MMS supporting access to offshore resources in the Atlantic under two conditions. First, we have always urged MMS to conduct seismic activity that will give us a full picture of the resource base in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). In fact, we filed a set of comments on this very topic just a few weeks ago. Second, we have argued that MMS should conduct comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) to thoroughly identify any environmental sensitivities in the Atlantic OCS and ensure that exploration and development can take place safely and protect the environment. We have supported seismic and environmental studies so strongly because they give policy makers the essential information that they need to determine whether we should move forward with exploration and production – i.e., whether the resource base exists and whether we can produce it in an environmentally responsible way.
While SEA agrees with Secretary Salazar that we need to completely reassess offshore exploration and production technologies and regulations in light of the Deepwater Horizon incident, we feel that putting a full stop on all OCS activities is the wrong step to take in response to the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, it is imperative that we find out what went wrong with this well, take all necessary steps to move forward responsibly with OCS activities while ensuring that this type of tragedy never occurs again.
Pulling the plug on Lease Sale 220 without conducting an EIS (which would certainly have been informed by the events currently taking place in the Gulf of Mexico) not only disregards years worth of study and analysis conducted by MMS on this region, it deprives the Department of the very information that it needs to make an informed decision about moving forward with Atlantic exploration and production.
President Obama and the Administration have a very difficult path in front of them as they contemplate moving forward with OCS exploration and production once the leak in the Gulf of Mexico is successfully plugged. SEA stands ready to provide any assistance possible to the President and Secretary Salazar as they head down that path and hopes that the Department will continue with plans to conduct seismic activities in the Mid and South Atlantic regions and not take the Atlantic off the table when developing a new OCS leasing program for 2012-2107.