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MMS Solicits Comments to Develop Five-Year Lease Plan

As part of the process to develop its next five-year leasing program and carry out a congressionally mandated inventory of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) energy resources, the Bush administration is asking the public to comment on whether existing moratoria on offshore oil and natural gas drilling should be "modified or expanded" to allow interested states to explore off of their coasts, and whether the government should work with Congress to develop natural gas-only leases.

These were some of the questions posed by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) in late August as it seeks to develop its 2007-2012 leasing plan for energy development on the OCS and an accompanying environmental impact statement (EIS).

The announcement is the first step in a two-year process to establish the Interior agency's five-year leasing plan. It does not include proposals for new lease sales, but rather it asks the public for general information and comments not only on energy development but also on other economic and environmental issues affecting the OCS region, according to the MMS.

Presidential or congressional moratoriums have placed more than 85% of the OCS off the lower 48 states off limits to oil and natural gas exploration and production activity.

The energy bill recently passed by Congress and enacted into law by President Bush calls for the federal government to conduct a comprehensive inventory and analysis of the oil and gas resources available in all areas of the OCS. Opponents see the inventory as the first step towards overturning the more than 20-year-old presidential and congressional moratoriums on drilling in much of the OCS.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton reaffirmed the Bush administration's pledge not to conduct any new leasing under the 2007-2012 plan within 100 miles of Florida's coast. Florida has steadfastly opposed energy development off of its coastline, saying such activity would foul its beaches and hurt its tourist trade.

The 2007-2012 OCS leasing program will be the seventh program prepared since Congress passed the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1978. The current program runs through June 30, 2007.

MMS said it plans to issue a draft proposed leasing program in the winter of this year, a proposed leasing program and draft EIS in the summer of 2006, and a final leasing program and final EIS in the winter of 2006. Following a 60-day waiting period, the agency said it expects to approve the five-year leasing plan in the spring of 2007.

Public comments are due at the MMS by Oct. 11. They may be submitted electronically at www.mms.gov/5-year/2007-2012main.htm, or by mail to: Five-Year Program Management, Minerals Management Service (MS-4010), Room 3120, 381 Elden Street, Herndon, VA 20170.

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