Strategy for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Leasing Announced by U.S. Dept. of Interior on March 15, 2016; Rules Out Leases in Mid- and South Atlantic, Including Off Virginia’s Coast

On March 15, 2016, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022, and the announced program rules out any leasing off the coast of Virginia for that period.  The program as announced on March 15, and its accompanying draft Environmental Impact Statement, are still subject to a public comment period following their publication in the Federal Register (see more on that below).

According to Interior’s news release on March 15, 2016 (Interior Department Announces Next Step in Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Planning Process for 2017-2022), “the program released today evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas—10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales off the coast of Alaska.  The Proposed Program does not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area due to current market dynamics, strong local opposition, and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.”  The Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area includes areas offshore Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, including Lease Sale 220, a 2.9-million acre off the coast of Virginia.

On January 27, 2015, BOEM had announced a draft program for 2017-22 that invited comment on possible leases in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area.  Comments on that draft proposal were part of the information evaluated by Interior in making its decision on which areas to open or keep closed for exploration in the upcoming five-year period.

BOEM’s Web site for the leasing program is http://www.boem.gov/Five-Year-Program/.  According to Interior’s March 15 news release, here are the next steps on the process of determining the 2017-22 leasing program:
“In conjunction with the announcement of the Proposed Program, the Department is also publishing a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.  The Proposed Program and Draft Programmatic EIS will be available for public comment following the publication of the documents in the Federal Register [emphasis added].  BOEM will hold public scoping meetings for areas included in the Proposed Program and will accept comments for 90 days on the Proposed Program and for 45 days on the Draft Programmatic EIS.  Following this opportunity for public comment and environmental review, the Department will prepare a Final Programmatic EIS with the Proposed Final Program (PFP).”

Following are links to news articles about the off-shore oil and gas leasing program, from newest to oldest, dating back to those that followed Interior’s January 27, 2015, announcement.

Atlantic Drilling off Table but Survey Permits Pending, Associated Press, as published by ABC News, 3/29/16.

Obama administration blocks Atlantic drilling plan supported by Virginia’s top Democrats, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/15/16.

Waters off Virginia, North Carolina out of offshore drilling plan, Virginian-Pilot, 3/15/16.

Governor McAuliffe Statement on Atlantic Oil Drilling Announcement, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 3/15/16.

In Shift, Obama Won’t Open Southeast Atlantic Coast to Drilling, New York Times, 3/15/16.

Obama administration deals an oil-drilling blow to Democratic leaders in Va., Washington Post, 3/15/16.

Navy’s concerns cited, once again, as reason to rein in drilling, Virginian-Pilot, 3/14/16.

Virginia officials want to make sure state gets a cut of potential offshore drilling money, Virginian-Pilot, 3/8/16.

Divide Grows in Southeast Over Offshore Drilling Plan, New York Times, 3/3/16.

Interior Department Announces Draft Strategy for Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing, U.S. Department of Interior News Release, 1/27/15.

Climate coalition urges no new fossil fuel leasing off Virginia, other public areas, Tidewater Review, 9/17/15.

Mid-Atlantic offshore drilling moving forward despite opposition; Bay state officials split on proposal, with some welcoming potential jobs, while other cite environmental concerns, Bay Journal, 4/29/15.

Offshore-drilling debate pits economy vs. environment, Virginian-Pilot, 2/12/15 [regarding participants in Norfolk for the Feb. 11, 2015, “open house” on offshore energy by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.]

Offshore drilling possible for Virginia?, Daily Press, 1/27/15.

Obama’s oil drilling proposal draws fire from environmentalists, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/27/15.

Ocean drilling plan excites local officials, upsets critics, Virginian-Pilot, 1/27/15.

Governor McAuliffe Statement on Interior Department’s Mid-Atlantic Offshore Plan, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 1/27/15.

Offshore drilling proposal pleases neither side of debate, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/28/15.

Here are some other related to offshore oil and gas exploration or development:
Oceana report: Offshore wind would reap twice the energy, jobs as offshore drilling, Daily Press, 1/14/15.  The January 2015 Oceana report, “Offshore Energy by the Numbers,” is available online at http://oceana.org/publications/reports/offshore-energy-numbers.

Study: Offshore oil, gas could yield 32,000 jobs, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/17/14.  The September 2014 University of Wyoming study, “Economic and Environmental Impacts of Oil and Gas Development Offshore the Delmarva, Carolinas, and Georgia,” is available here: http://www.thomasjeffersoninst.org/files/3/East%20Coast%20Energy%20Study.pdf.

Previous Water Central News Grouper items, including several on the current five-year program (2012-2017), which does not allow any activity in Lease Sale 220 off Virginia’s coastline, are available at this link: https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/?s=offshore+oil+and+gas.

Finally, two articles in 2006 in Virginia Water Central, the newsletter of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, provide historical information on the issue of offshore oil and gas in Virginia, going back at least to the 1970s: “Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Report,” February 2006, pp. 14-17, online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49344 (includes excerpts from Virginia’s 2006 “Study of the Possibility of Exploring for Natural Gas in the Coastal Areas of the Commonwealth”); and “Eyes and Ayes on Off-shore Energy Exploration,” September 2006, pp. 1-4, online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49346.

Cartoon offshore energy

Cartoon by George Wills of Blacksburg, Va. (http://www.etsy.com/people/BlacksburgArt), published originally in “Offshore Gas and Oil Exploration Report,” Virginia Water Central, Feb. 2006, pp. 14-17, available online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49344.

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