The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has completed a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for a series of five oil and gas lease sales tentatively scheduled for 2012-2017 in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico (GOM) planning areas.

Included in the proposed “Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program: 2012-2017” are tentative plans for Western Planning Area Lease Sales 229, 233, 238, 246 and 248 and Central Planning Area Lease Sales 227, 231, 235, 241 and 247 offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The draft environmental impact statement evaluates baseline conditions and potential environmental effects of oil and natural gas leasing, exploration, development and production in the Western and Central Gulf,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau.

BOEM is to begin accepting comments on the DEIS following the publication date of a notice of availability in the Federal Register. Comments can be e-mailed to or mailed to: Comments on the Draft Multisale EIS, Gary D. Goeke, Regional Assessment Section, Office of Environmental (MS 5410), BOEM, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park Blvd., New Orleans, LA, 70123-2394.

BOEM has also scheduled public hearings on the DEIS at the Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston Jan. 10; at the BOEM offices in New Orleans Jan. 11; and at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, AL, Jan. 12.

ConocoPhillips last month bid $103.2 million for a tract in the western GOM, making it the highest bidder in the first auction held by the federal government in the region since the Macondo well blowout in 2010 (see NGI, Dec. 19, 2011). Sale 218, the last remaining sale in the Western Gulf Planning Areas in the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf leasing program, attracted a total of $337.7 million in high bids and included 20 companies submitting 241 bids on 191 tracts comprising more than one million acres offshore Texas in the areas of Matagorda Island, Brazos, Galveston, High Island, West Cameron, East Breaks, Garden Banks, Alaminos Canyon and Keathley Canyon, BOEM said.

Well drilling permit approvals by the BOEM in the deepwater GOM increased significantly from April to October but still fall below pre-moratorium levels and they may for some time, according to updated research by IHS Inc. According to the latest data, nine deepwater drilling permits (exploration and development) were approved in September versus four in April. The pre-moratorium average monthly rate from January 2005 to October 2010 was 13.

The original report by IHS, “Restarting ‘the Engine’ — Securing American Jobs, Investment and Energy Security,” analyzed the pace of regulatory approvals after the deepwater drilling moratorium was lifted in October 2010 (see NGI, July 25, 2011). The study was commissioned by the nonprofit Gulf Economic Survival Team, a group that serves as a liaison between industry as well as state, local and the federal governments. It was completed by IHS CERA and IHS Global Insight.

Researchers originally analyzed publicly available data for GOM drilling permit approvals from Oct. 12, 2010 through April 10, 2011. The research indicated that permitting activity had fallen sharply, which in turn was having a big impact on potential gross domestic product opportunities associated with the “activity gap.” Because the data only looked at the six-month period, it was disputed as being inaccurate and incomplete by Michael Bromwich, who then was directing the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (see NGI, Aug. 8, 2011).

The update issued in December analyzed Department of Interior deepwater drilling permit approval data between April 20 and Oct. 12 — months six through 12 since the moratorium was lifted. It then compared those numbers with the previous six months, as well as the historical numbers since January 2005. Researchers also examined the temporary impact of classifying some, but not all, of the permit applications that had been submitted before the moratorium as “revisions” rather than as “new applications.”

The full year of data indicated that permit activity also was well below the historical annual average. The pre-moratorium annual average was 157 permits per year, versus the 12-month post-moratorium of 51 permits, which “yields 32% of the historical annual average,” IHS noted. Before the moratorium it took on average 16 days for an exploration well permit to be approved, but post-moratorium the average is 80 days. Development well approval had averaged 24 days; today it’s taking about 35 days.

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