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Interior Slows Review of Five-Year OCS Leasing Plan

The Obama administration Tuesday delivered its second blow to domestic oil and natural gas producers in less than a week -- this time considerably slowing the process for review of the new five-year offshore leasing plan (2010-2015) that was issued in the final days of the Bush administration.

"I am once again taking steps to change the way the Department of Interior does business," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said during a press briefing in Washington, DC. The proposed leasing plan, which would open banned areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, was issued on Jan. 16, the last business day of the Bush administration (see Daily GPI, Jan. 20). This action, if left unchecked, would have accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), with it being finalized in 2010, he said.

"In my view it was a headlong rush of the worst kind," Salazar said. Moreover, the process during the Bush era was "tilted toward the usual energy players, while renewable energy companies and interests...were being overlooked."

To slow the process, Salazar said he has added 180 days to the time period for public comment on the proposed leasing plan. Comments initially were due March 23, but the deadline has been extended to Sept. 23. He further has directed Interior's Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to issue a report on traditional and renewable OCS resources in 45 days. And 30 days following the issuance of the report, Salazar said he will host four regional meetings on the OCS in Alaska and along the Eastern Seaboard, West Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

"We need to set aside the Bush administration's midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timetable," he said. "The additional time will allow us to restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning."

In the meantime, "we will stay with the current five-year plan," he said.

He also said he was committed to issuing a final rulemaking on offshore renewable resources "as soon as possible." The Bush administration "torpedoed" offshore renewable energy development in favor of the more traditional fuels, he said. "This rulemaking will allow us to move from the 'oil and gas only' approach of the previous administration to the comprehensive energy plan that we need."

Salazar said the Obama administration was not turning its back on the oil and gas industry. "For those of you in the oil and gas industry...I pledge to all of you that you will have a seat at the table. We need your expertise and your resources" in developing a comprehensive approach to energy. The energy contributions made by oil and gas is "something that we welcome."

But he stressed that "a drilling-only approach onshore and offshore is not enough."

Salazar's latest action comes less than a week after he directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withdraw leases to develop oil and gas on more than 100,000 acres in Northeast Utah (see Daily GPI, Feb. 5). His action overturned the results of an oil and gas lease auction held in the final days of the Bush administration.

Specifically, he told the BLM not to accept bids on 77 parcels that are in "close proximity" to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mile Canyon. Producers bid about $6 million on the 77 parcels that were auctioned during a BLM sale on Dec. 19.

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