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December 23, 2010 --- Vol. 16, No. 120December 2010

Department of the Interior files revised OCS lease sale program

The U.S. Department of the Interior today filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia a revised version of its 2007-12 outer continental shelf oil and gas lease sale program. The filing comes in response to an April 2009 court decision in an appeal against the program — the program includes the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale in which several companies including Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil purchased leases.

The court required Interior to rework the environmental analysis for the program and meantime withdrew the Chukchi Sea lease sale, thus creating uncertainty over whether companies holding Chukchi Sea leases will be able to proceed with exploration drilling in those leases.

Following today’s filing, the court will now need to determine whether the revised program has adequately addressed the environmental analysis deficiencies that the court identified in 2009. And according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, filed along with the new program, all parties in the appeal case will now submit motions to the court by Jan. 24.

The new program upholds the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale while deferring any further lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for possible inclusion in the next lease sale program, running from 2012-17. This position appears consistent with a new OCS leasing strategy that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Dec. 1.

Interior announces new BLM wild lands policy

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a secretarial order today directing the Bureau of Land Management to designate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “wild lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

In a statement Interior said input from the public and from local communities would be accepted on the designation through BLM’s existing land management planning process.

BLM has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003 when wilderness management guidance in BLM’s handbook was revoked as part of what Interior described as “a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties.”

A “wild lands” designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, Interior said, distinguishing wild lands from “wilderness areas” which are designated by Congress and can only be modified by legislation, and “wilderness study areas,” which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as wilderness areas or modify their management.

Interior said the order applies to BLM public lands in Alaska, where there has never been a statewide wilderness inventory.

Interior said that mindful of the balance struck under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, wild lands will be designated in Alaska “only through the BLM’s comprehensive land use planning processes, which provides for robust public comment and involvement.”

Interior said the order will apply to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and BLM may designate wild lands in NPR-A as part of its integrated activity planning for the area, but “will continue to conduct an expeditious program of competitive oil and gas leasing in the Reserve.”

BLM will issue the new policy within 60 days.

See more in the Jan. 2 edition of Petroleum News, available online to subscribers on Thurs., Dec. 30 by 11 a.m.

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