The U.S. Interior Department is asking the energy industry, environmental groups, state officials and the general public for suggestions on how to develop a federal energy leasing plan through 2012 for all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.
“The Outer Continental Shelf contains billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that can be safely produced,” Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in a statement. “With our reliance on imports of foreign oil climbing each year, we would be irresponsible if we did not consider how we might develop these abundant domestic resources.”
Norton said she would uphold a White House promise and not offer any federal leases through 2012 within 100 miles of Florida’s coast.
But the new U.S. energy law requires the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service to conduct a comprehensive inventory and analysis of oil and natural gas resources for all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. And that provision was included despite opposition from senators from Florida, California, and North Carolina who said the inventory could eventually lead to drilling that threatens their tourism industries.
Environmental groups are opposed to the inventory as well.
“This inventory takes us one giant step closer to a reversal of the 24-year-old moratorium on offshore drilling and is part of a larger agenda to open up our coasts to oil rigs and pipelines that will destroy our beaches and natural heritage,” said Sierra Club spokesman David Willett.
The Interior Department said it was seeking general comments from the public on offshore oil and gas development as the government develops its 2007-2012 leasing plan. The current five-year leasing program expires on June 30, 2007.
Public comments are due by Oct. 11.
Currently, federal offshore drilling is allowed only in four states: Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.
The department specifically asked for comments on the “economic, social, and environmental values” of oil and gas contained in federal offshore waters.
The department also said it was considering whether it should work with Congress to develop gas-only leases. The Outer Continental Shelf may contain as much as 76 billion barrels of oil and 406 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that can be recovered with existing technology, according to government estimates.
Natural gas prices have soared by roughly 75 percent in the past year, driven higher by oil prices and increasing demand for gas to fuel utilities and other plants.
The United States now consumes about 20 million barrels per day of oil, and about 22 trillion cubic feet of gas per day.
States typically control drilling in waters within three miles of their coastline, and the federal government has authority to lease drilling tracts beyond that.
Proposal details, and a form to submit comments electronically, are online at www.mms.gov/5-year/2007-2012main.htm.