Oil and gas industry officials seeking drilling access to more offshore areas have a chance to let their voices be heard by U.S. regulatory authorities.
Using the targeted leasing approach unveiled in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) wants to find out which specific areas in the Beaufort Sea planning area have the most promising hydrocarbon potential. BOEM already has its own idea, but seeks industry’s input. The federal agency is also seeking knowledge about environmentally sensitive habitats as well as other native activities of importance in the area as part of its recently announced 45-day call for information and nominations.
“There is significant oil and gas potential in the Beaufort Sea, but this part of the Arctic Ocean is also a unique and sensitive environment that is critically important to the subsistence needs of Alaska Native communities on the North Slope,” BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank said in a press release about the call for information. “Any consideration of future leasing must be done in a way that identifies not only the areas that have resource potential, but also those areas that must be protected for wildlife and traditional uses.”
The process will play a role in BOEM’s decision on which areas could be included in a potential oil and gas lease sale offshore Alaska. Industry is asked to rank its interest in certain areas on a five-level scale ranging from “critical interest” to “no interest.” BOEM said if a nomination is outside the area BOEM believes has high hydrocarbon potential, the company must provide detailed information, such as geologic, geophysical and economic data—about the desired area.
This doesn’t mean all areas with high interest will be shoo-ins for possible sales. Just as with previous targeted lease approaches, detailed environmental reviews and consultations under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws will be part of the process.
The approach differs from area-wide leasing, which applies to lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), in that:
Industry provides information to back its nominations for areas proposed for leasing;
The government also wants to know which areas should not be considered for leasing;
The call for information and nominations happens prior to, instead of concurrent with, the notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, which enables BOEM to “create a more geographically distinct proposal for analysis in the environmental impact statement.”
“BOEM hopes to lessen controversial issues and demonstrate its commitment to targeted leasing strategy early in the process,” the agency said on its website. “The process will allow local communities and other stakeholders to focus attention on a more compact proposed lease sale area, allowing them to concentrate their limited resources toward developing more detailed and relevant comments.”
This sounds like a logical approach to conducting lease sales, especially in environmentally-sensitive areas. But it also could take out some of the guesswork and perhaps save time and manpower if the same, or similar, approach was used for areas that are new to oil and gas drilling. This could apply both offshore and onshore.
Sure, that would mean another regulatory element; however, it could reduce issues that could surface later—whether it’s the presence of endangered birds or reptiles, or some other issue or circumstance unforeseen by the oil and gas industry, regulators or both. Maybe the timing is off, or there simply isn’t enough evidence to justify spending more money chasing oil and natural gas believed to be in place.
Perhaps, the targeted approach could have come in handy with Eastern Sale 225 in the GoM. That sale, which took place in March, didn’t get any bids for new leases.
In addition to Lease Sale 242, scheduled for 2017 in the Beaufort Sea program area, BOEM plans to institute targeted leasing for Lease Sale 237 in the Chukchi Sea program area. The Chukchi lease sale is scheduled in 2016.
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.