The Department of the Interior today published its draft five-year outer continental shelf oil and gas lease sale plan for the period 2017-2022. In what the agency characterizes as "a regionally tailored approach" the plan proposes one sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet areas of Alaska, with those sales being scheduled late in the lease sale program, "to provide additional opportunity to gather and evaluate information regarding environmental issues, subsistence use needs, infrastructure capabilities, and results from any exploration activity associated with existing leases from previous sales," Interior says.
"The safe and responsible development of our nation's domestic energy resources is a key part of the president's efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when announcing the draft plan. "This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop."
The proposed plan adds the Hanna Shoal area of the Chukchi Sea to the list of areas excluded from oil and gas leasing around Alaska because of environmental concerns. Interior says that scientific research has found this area to be of critical importance to many marine species, including Pacific walruses and bearded seals. Four other areas withdrawn from leasing in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas had also been excluded from leasing in the current five-year lease sale plan.
A statement from the White House says that, in placing 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits to leasing, President Obama is taking another step to protect the nation's most valuable natural resources.
"Teeming with biological diversity, these areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi are part of one of the last great marine wildernesses left untouched by development," the statement says.
The statement also comments that the president's all-of-the-above energy strategy has supported economic growth and helped reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"But even as we consider new places that may be appropriate to responsibly develop oil and gas, we can take meaningful steps to protect areas that matter most for our environment, our Native communities and our cultural identity," the statement says.
- ALAN BAILEY
See story in Feb. 1 issue, available online Friday, Jan. 30 at www.PetroleumNews.com