A coalition of oil and natural gas industry groups, led by the American Petroleum Institute (API), urged the Interior Department to expand the next five-year offshore leasing program by at least evaluating and considering all areas of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

Since early July, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been seeking public comments for its 2019-2024 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The deadline to submit comments was Thursday. According to Regulations.gov, a website operated by the federal government, BOEM received 56,489 public comments over the leasing program.

In a 15-page letter to BOEM National Program Manager Kelly Hammerle, API said the federal agency should include all 26 planning areas within the OCS as part of the five-year development process, “and not prematurely eliminate areas that have resource development potential.” That would include areas of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM), which are currently closed to leasing.

“The decisions made now will have long-lasting impacts on U.S. energy policy,” API told Hammerle. “To continue our march towards greater energy independence, bold, forward-looking decisions need to be made…

“To ensure a robust energy program out to 2040 and beyond, decisions on areas to include in the 2019-2024 OCS Leasing Program need to be more expansive than today’s leasing program. Therefore, BOEM should fully consider all areas for inclusion in the program and keep as many areas as feasible in the Draft Proposed Program.”

API added that despite “strong support” from elected officials in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, no Atlantic sales were included in the 2017-2022 Leasing Program, and seismic surveying in those states’ offshore areas was delayed. Surveying is currently moving forward, but at a very slow pace. The organization said such surveying is crucial for assessing the area’s true resource potential, and that the slow pace of gathering data is causing the development process to go “out of sync.”

“BOEM will need to decide which areas to include in the Draft Proposed Program well before industry has the opportunity to collect and analyze any new seismic data,” API said. “If the Atlantic OCS is not included in the Draft Proposed Program, then new seismic data will likely not become available as the incentive for companies to collect the data — and the prospect of a future lease sale — will be gone.

“Therefore, we respectfully request that, at a minimum, the Mid- and South Atlantic OCS Planning Areas must be included in the Draft Proposed Program.”

In a separate statement Thursday, API Upstream Director Erik Milito said expanding the 2019-2024 OCS Leasing Program was an opportunity to continue the nation’s energy renaissance and bolster its national security.

“The ability to explore our resources in the Arctic, Atlantic, and the Eastern GOM in the next five-year program is a critical part of advancing the long-term energy security of our nation, and we urge the administration to consider these benefits as they prepare a new offshore leasing program,” Milito said.

Last April, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior to consider allowing oil and gas leasing in several offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the GOM.

Eight other industry groups — the National Ocean Industries Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, the American Exploration & Production Council, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association — were signatories to API’s comments.