The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) on Thursday released for comment a proposed second draft for its 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing program and associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The five-year proposal includes 21 OCS lease sales in seven of the 26 planning areas: four areas off the coast of Alaska, two areas in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and one in the Atlantic off the coast of Virginia.

The MMS estimates there are 67.9 billion bbl of oil and 340.4 Tcf of natural gas considered undiscovered technically recoverable resources (UTRR) from all of the planning areas where sales are under consideration through 2012. However, only a portion of the planning areas are included in the proposal.

Similar to the first draft issued in February (see Daily GPI, Feb. 9), the proposed program includes a special-interest sale scheduled for late 2011 in the Mid-Atlantic planning area off the coast of Virginia. The program area excludes a 25-mile coastal buffer from leasing consideration because there is no existing oil and gas activity in the area, and the state has made no request to include leasing closer to shore. Also, there is no leasing proposed in a wedge-shaped “No-Obstruction Zone” to avoid conflicts with navigation activities in and out of the Chesapeake Bay.

MMS noted “current presidential withdrawals or congressional moratoria have placed more than 85% of the OCS around the Lower 48 states off limits to energy development, including all areas off the Virginia coast.” MMS included Virginia in the plan in the event Congress and the president lift current restrictions.

In the two areas with the most interest, the Central and Western GOM planning areas, the proposed program remains the same as the first draft issued by the MMS, except it excludes a small area in the Central GOM that is east of the military line, located at 86 degrees, 41 feet west.

Annual areawide lease sales in the GOM will continue, the MMS said. One sale proposed in 2007 is for a portion of an area that was identified for Lease Sale 181 in the five-year program for 1997-2002. MMS said that as a result of the reconfiguration of some planning areas to follow new administrative lines, some of the areas formerly included in the Eastern and Western GOM planning areas are now part of the Central Gulf planning area. No lease sales are scheduled in the reconfigured Eastern Gulf planning area.

The original 181 sale area is not under presidential withdrawal and has not been subject to congressional moratoria. In addition, the area being considered for leasing will not include the area within 100 miles of the Florida coast that used to be part of the Eastern GOM planning area.

In the Alaska planning region, MMS proposes multiple lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and the North Aleutian Basin planning areas. Two of these areas are modified from the draft proposed program. In the Chukchi Sea, the proposed program removes from leasing consideration a 25-mile buffer area along the coast, as there is no existing oil and gas activity in the area and the state has made no request to include leasing closer to shore. For the North Aleutian Basin, in response to comments from the governor and most of the local governments and tribal organizations, this program proposes sales only in the area offered in Sale 92, which was held in 1988.

Similar to prohibitions in Virginia, the North Aleutian Basin planning area is currently withdrawn by presidential order under section 12 of the OCS Lands Act. However, Alaska has requested that the president modify the withdrawal to exclude the North Aleutian Basin planning area and allow the scheduling of lease sales in the Sale 92 area in the 2007-2012 program. The Cook Inlet planning area is included on the schedule as a special interest sale, but MMS said the sale will only take place if enough interest is shown by industry in answer to a nomination call.

The MMS plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS for the 2007-2012 leasing plan in early 2007. Once it is issued, the secretary of the Interior will have 60 days to approve the program, which is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2007.

Comments on the proposed program are due to MMS by Nov. 24. The MMS will accept comments submitted through its electronic commenting system, which may be accessed at www.mms.gov/5-year/2007-2012main.htm. Comments and information also may be mailed to Renee Orr, five-year program manager, MMS (MS-4010), Room 3120, 381 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. Comments on the DEIS are due by Nov. 22. The DEIS is available at www.mms.gov/5-year/.

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