Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A first look at Obama’s OCS strategy

As usual, the devil is in the details. But my first impression is that the Obama administration tried to do what was politically possible in its new US Outer Continental Shelf strategy.

That’s why it doesn’t include any Atlantic areas above Virginia or Pacific sites off the west coast of the Lower 48 states. It holds out the possibility of expanding offshore oil and gas activity into the OCS from Virginia and Georgia, and in parts of the Arctic Ocean. But this would occur only after thorough discussion and scientific evaluation, which will take a long time.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar drew his boldest line in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where he would like to consider offering leases 125 miles off of Florida’s coast if the activity doesn’t interfere with military training activities. His main opponent there is US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who admitted that Salazar’s proposal is more reasonable than the one from Florida’s legislature which endorsed leasing 3 miles offshore.

The lawsuit which led to a federal court’s vacating the 2007-12 5-year OCS plan because the US Minerals Management Service tried to take a short cut and apply environmental impact data from areas closer to Alaska’s shore to sites farther out to sea clearly influenced the new strategy, not just in the Far North but also in other OCS areas outside the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico. The Virginia OCS sale is still on, but looks likelier in 2012 than 2011 – if then.

Oil and gas association executives said they welcomed the announcement, but that simply may be because it’s the only indication so far of what this administration has in mind for the OCS. What it does next will determine whether it’s serious about producing more domestic oil and gas from the OCS, or if it’s simply stalling for time before the November elections.


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