Energy dominance is how the White House described the Trump Administration’s emerging energy policy in mid-2017. With expanding U.S. oil and natural gas production coupled with growing exports to global markets, the muscular language signaled a notable policy shift from the previous administration, and a desire to leverage the nation’s petroleum resources for its economic and security potential.
Early last month, the government took a significant step with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announcing the development of a new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the years 2019-2024, which, if adopted, would supersede the 2017-2022 National OCS Program developed by the Obama Administration.
“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security,” said Secretary Zinke.
Under the Draft Proposed Program released with the announcement, more than 90 percent of the entire OCS would be made available for leasing in the largest number of lease sales in history. And, according to resources estimates, the plan would provide access to 98 percent of the undiscovered, technically-recoverable resources on the OCS. The current program, in contrast, withdrew 94 percent of the nation’s OCS from leasing.
“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke continued. “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”
Developing the Plan
As the secretary observed, the development of a five-year National OCS Program is a rigorous and formal process with multiple stages.
In this stage the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the government agency responsible for the OCS leasing program, is collecting public comment on the DPP as well as its Notice of Intent to conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This public comment period is 60 days long and open until March 9, 2018.
After collecting and assessing the comment received on the DPP and the Notice of Intent the Bureau will develop a Proposed Program and a Draft PEIS. These will then be published and, again, open for public comment. This time there will be 90 days to provide the government with additional information and recommendations.
Based on the responses for public comment, the Bureau will develop and publish a proposed Final Program and Final PEIS. Again, these will be open to a 60-day period for the president and Congress to provide input prior to approval of the Final Program.
At each stage the public has the opportunity to weigh in on the plan, and it’s this iterative process that allows society to balance protection of people and environment with the energy needs of the nation.
Most importantly, however, the Trump Administration has, for the first time in recent memory, elected to give industry the opportunity to bid on the areas of the OCS where it most desires to explore. It is allowing industry to lead the way, investing in those projects they believe most likely to yield a return.
AAPG applauds this approach.
As articulated in its policy statement on the OCS, “AAPG supports the full exploration, development, and production of the petroleum resources on the Outer Continental Shelf and Slope of the United States.”
What You Can Do
So what is needed to realize the potential of these moves by Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration?
First, we need to weigh in with public comments during on the DPP and subsequent releases. The simplest way to do so is online at www.regulations.gov or www.boem.gov/comment.
In addition to the online responses, BOEM is holding a series of 23 public meetings across the nation, where interested parties are invited to provide comment in-person.
Second, as part of the comments, urge the secretary of the interior to permit the acquisition of new seismic data on the nation’s OCS.
As Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, tweeted on Dec. 5 of last year, there has been a multi-year delay in permits to permit new seismic acquisition on the Atlantic OCS, “>1350 days (3+yrs) have passed since Atlantic EIS & seismic survey permit apps were re-filed; >980 days since @BOEM_DOI public comment & Atlantic road show; >860 days since @NOAAFisheries deemed MMPA requests complete for public comment...”
It’s time. The industry must be able to collect new seismic data to properly assess the potential.
Third, the industry needs to allocate investment to exploration. While a retrenchment of spending is understandable during a downturn, it has persisted too long. It’s time to invest now in the production of the future. It’s time to explore again, and the OCS is a good place to begin.