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Posts Tagged ‘Minerals Management Service’

MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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STEPHEN POWER, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2009
images1Interior Secretary Ken Salazar indicated Tuesday that the Obama Administration could be open to expanded offshore drilling and is considering doing away with a controversial program that allows oil companies to pay in kind for oil and natural gas taken from public lands.

Salazar inherited a Bush Administration plan that would open tracts off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where drilling had previously been prohibited. Environmental groups want the Obama administration to re-impose a ban on expanded offshore drilling that President George W. Bush lifted last year.

Asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal whether President Barack Obama might try to reinstate the ban, Salazar paused 18 seconds before saying: “I don’t know.”

“We have significant drilling already in many places of the Gulf coast. We have drilling in many places off the Alaska shorelines. There are other places that hold potential for exploration. We’ll develop our guidelines as to how we’re going to look at it. But we’re still at the beginning of an information-gathering process,” he said.

Asked about the Bush administration’s proposal to open certain areas of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling and whether he saw any opportunities for expanded development of the nation’s offshore areas, Salazar said: “When you look at the whole [outer continental shelf], it’s a huge potential. And it has to be done carefully. We don’t want to ruin the beaches of Florida and the coastlines of other places that are sensitive.”

“On the other hand, there are places where it may be appropriate for us to have reconnaissance and exploration and even development. Those are questions that we are exploring and hopefully over the months ahead we’ll have answers to these questions,” he said.

Salazar left the door open to curtailing the “royalty-in-kind” program, under which the government receives oil or natural gas instead of cash for payments of royalties from companies that lease federal property for oil and gas development, and then sells the product into the marketplace and returns the proceeds to the Treasury. “We’re going to put everything on the table — I think everything needs to be looked at,” Salazar said.

Meanwhile, Salazar said new legislation may be needed to overhaul the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, a bureau of Interior that manages the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

Salazar said his top priority is to restore confidence in the agency, and in particular the MMS, which was rocked last fall by a report from the department’s inspector general that accused some MMS employees of accepting gifts from and having sex with oil and gas industry representatives whose activities they were supposed to regulate.

Although the Bush administration late last year announced disciplinary action ranging from warnings to termination of more than a half-dozen workers implicated in the report, Salazar said he is mulling “whether additional actions are required.”

Many environmental groups are looking to Salazar to reverse certain policy changes made in the final months of the Bush administration, including new regulations on commercial oil-shale development that the groups say lock in inappropriately low royalty rates for energy firms. Salazar said he and his aides intend to review “all those issues” and that “I expect that there will be changes.”

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Let Your Voice Be Heard by March 23, 2009

by MendoCoastCurrent and pointarenabasin

Beginning January 22, 2009 and ending on March 23, 2009, a 60-day Public Comment Period opened regarding new offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the pristine waters off northern California.

And while this is a multi-step process and before things are cast in stone, NOW is the time to share your views.

FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER – REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – Minerals Management Service

Request for Comments on the Draft Proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed 5-Year Program

AGENCY: Minerals Management Service, Interior.

ACTION: Request for Comments.

SUMMARY: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) requests comments on the Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). This draft proposal is for a new oil and gas program to succeed the current program that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2012, and forms the basis for conducting the studies and analyses the Secretary will consider in making future decisions on what areas of the OCS to include in the program.

DATES: Please submit comments and information to the MMS no later than March 23, 2009.

LINK:  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click “Advanced Docket Search,” then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click the submit button. In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OMM-0045 to submit public comments and to view related materials available for this Notice.

Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior; Minerals Management Service; Attention: Leasing Division (LD); 381 Elden Street, MS-4010; Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Please reference “2010-2015 Oil and Gas Leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf,” in your comments and include your name and return address.

Summary of the Draft Proposed Program

In developing the DPP for 2010-2015, the MMS considered oil and gas leasing in the areas of the OCS that are included in the current 5-year program for 2007-2012 and additional areas off Alaska, Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coast. Some of these additional areas had been subject to annual congressional moratoria prohibiting oil and gas leasing. However, the moratoria expired on September 30, 2008. The DPP includes lease sales in offshore areas that have the highest oil and gas resource values and highest industry interest.

It has been promoted that 47 comments from oil and gas companies or associations nominated specific planning areas to be included in the new 5-Year program; some nominated all planning area.  

Wave energy reporter Frank Hartzell claims that the nominations may have been fabricated, see In Last Days, Bush Inflicts North Coast Offshore Oil Plan.

Table A–Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015–Lease Sale Schedule

———————————————————————

Sale Number Area Year

———————————————————————

236…………………… Northern California………..2014

Pacific Region

The Pacific Region consists of 4 planning areas–Washington-Oregon, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The DPP schedules one sale in the Northern California Planning Area and two in the Southern California Planning Area. The proposed sales are in areas of known hydrocarbon potential – the Point Arena Basin in Northern California.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation

Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of NEPA, the MMS intends to prepare an EIS for the new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing program for 2010-2015. This notice starts the formal scoping process for the EIS under 40 CFR 1501.7, and solicits information regarding issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. The EIS will analyzethe potential impacts of the adoption of the proposed 5-year program.

The comments that MMS has received in response to the August 2008, Request for Comments, and the comments received during scoping for the 2007-2012 5-Year EIS have identified environmental issues and concerns that MMS will consider in the EIS. In summary, these include climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats. Additionally alternatives will be developed and analyzed during the EIS process based on scoping comments and governmental communications. Alternatives may include increasing or decreasing the number or frequency of sales, coastal buffers, limiting areas available for leasing, and excluding parts of or entire planning areas.

Scoping Meetings

Meetings will be held between now and March 23, 2009 to receive scoping comments on the EIS including –

Ft. Bragg/Ukiah, California; TBA

Next Steps in the Process

The MMS plans to issue the proposed program and draft EIS in mid-summer 2009 for a 90-day comment period and plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS in spring 2010. The Secretary of the Interior may approve the new 5-year program 60 days later to go into effect as of July 1, 2010.

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JANE KAY, San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2009

ba-drilling0117__sfcg1232159552_part1The U.S. Interior Department, acting in President Bush’s final days in office, proposed on Friday opening up 130 million acres off of California’s coast to drilling for oil and natural gas, including areas off Humboldt and Mendocino counties and from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego.

After a hands-off policy for a quarter-century, the administration submitted plans to sell oil and gas leases for most of the U.S. coast, from the Gulf of Maine to Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

New drilling also was proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the nation’s most plentiful sources of fish, and the Arctic Ocean.

Washington, Oregon and protected parts of Florida were excluded along with waters off San Francisco Bay that lie within national marine sanctuaries.

On Friday, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups greeted the news with praise, saying it is time for domestic energy supplies to be released from the moratorium.

But environmental groups and some Democratic leaders who oppose California drilling criticized the 11th-hour move, vowing to work with the Obama administration to promote energy independence based on clean, renewable technologies.

“President Bush’s last-ditch effort to open our coasts to new drilling is nothing more than a parting gift to his buddies in the oil and gas industry,” said Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the platform blowout that spilled 3 million gallons of black crude oil on 35 miles of beaches around Santa Barbara, Capps said, “New offshore drilling would not lower gas prices, make us more energy independent or get our economy back on track.”

Richard Charter, a longtime environmental lobbyist who now works for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, called the government’s move “an extremist act.”

“What we see today is the political equivalent of a rock star trashing the hotel room right before checkout,” he said.

The Interior Department used a lapse in the congressional moratorium in October and a cancellation of a presidential prohibition in July to set in motion the lease-sale program – which the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama could cancel or proceed with.

Obama has said he would consider some offshore oil drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Obama’s pick for interior secretary, hasn’t given his views on offshore drilling in California. He said in his confirmation hearings Thursday that he will confer with the administration’s team.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington, opposes new offshore oil drilling despite the new revenue it would offer the cash-strapped state.

The federal government has failed to make a case for a new program because energy resources are insignificant in the Atlantic, Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico, already-sold leases aren’t being used, and no protections are in place to protect the environment, the governors said.

In Friday’s announcement, Interior Department officials proposed three new lease sales, one in Northern California and two in Southern California in “areas with known hydrocarbon potential.” The proposals, which were based on requests from seven oil companies that weren’t named, would include:

— As many as 44 million acres of federal waters, which start 3 miles from the shoreline, off Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

— As many as 89 million acres off of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. One lease would require equipment operating at a diagonal to drill within the Santa Barbara Ecological Preserve. In Southern California, there are 79 existing leases with 43 producing and 36 undeveloped.

There will be a 60-day comment period, with hearings in Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego. Dates for the hearings have not been announced.

If sales are allowed, they could occur as soon as 2014.

About 60%  of California citizens who commented on new oil-and-gas development were opposed to new drilling, according to the Interior Department’s oil-drilling agency, the Minerals Management Service.

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MICHAEL FALCONE, The New York Times, January 16, 2009

On January 15, 2009, Senator Ken Salazar pledged to “clean up the mess” at the Interior Department if he is confirmed as the next chief of the department, which has been plagued by ethics scandals.

Mr. Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, also said he shared President Obama’s commitment to ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil, a goal that he said could be achieved, in part, through greater use of renewable resources like solar and wind power.

But he avoided specifics when members of the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, who are considering his confirmation, pressed him on whether he supported an expansion of oil extraction from public lands and offshore drilling. 

On the question of whether to open more areas off the coasts to oil exploration, Mr. Salazar said there might be some areas where it would be appropriate and “other places that are off limits.”

The full Senate voted Thursday to set aside two million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. Approval is expected in the House.

Mr. Salazar, who was a farmer and rancher before he entered public life, also promised that on his watch the agency, which has jurisdiction over vast expanses of federal lands, would not be focused solely on the western half of the United States.

“I want this department to be America’s department,” he said.

Mr. Salazar also fielded questions on a variety of other topics, including the Endangered Species Act and changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

He kept his answers short, and often vague, but appeared to breeze through the hearing before a committee of his legislative colleagues.

Senator Ron Wyden,  Democrat of Oregon, said that it had turned into a “full-fledged bouquet-tossing contest.”

But Mr. Wyden warned Mr. Salazar that he had some “very heavy lifting ahead,” and sought assurances that he would review some decisions made by Bush administration officials to see if they were politically tainted.

Mr. Salazar said, “We will review what decisions have been made to see whether there is action necessary to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law and to make sure they’re in compliance with the science.”

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