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Posts Tagged ‘Offshore Oil Drilling Ban’

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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CBS 5 with MendoCoastCurrent edits, January 8, 2009

oil_rigNew legislation may prevent oil drilling off the California coast in Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Growing concern about the nation’s reliance on foreign oil has led to rekindled enthusiasm in some quarters for coastal oil drilling, and renewed efforts to protect the Northern California coast.

Two bills introduced when Congress convened this week place a ban on coastal oil drilling in Northern California, one by creating a marine sanctuary off the Sonoma coast. 

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Marin and Sonoma counties attempted to push the marine sanctuary bill through when a 26-year moratorium on offshore oil drilling expired last year. 

Another bill by Rep. Mike Thompson of Northern California permanently bans drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. 

Both said without quick action, new oil rigs may soon dot California’s coast.

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MendoCoastCurrent, A Message from Richard Charter, September 29, 2008

The 27-year congressional offshore drilling moratorium will quietly lapse at midnight this Tuesday, September 30. Representing one of the most significant reversals of conservation protection in our time, this tragic event may be overshadowed in the media by the single most threatening economic crisis since the Great Depression.

We are also hearing that we may yet face a last-minute Senate Floor vote on an unspecified proposal by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina this week, having to do with litigation and expedited OCS leasing.

As a Nation, our Founders long ago established the hallowed tradition of not unnecessarily trashing every part of our natural heritage, and Congress was able to extend this important tradition of preservation to our most sensitive coastal waters by maintaining the OCS moratorium throughout the past twenty-seven years.

During this period of struggle for our coasts, we have had a good run. We need to now rededicate ourselves to the health of our oceans and to the protection of our coastal environment as a matter of survival, and recommit our collective efforts in a new Congress and in each of our states to restoring what has been temporarily taken from us this year in the largest land-grab in U.S. history, while preparing to rebuild similar new protection for our coastal waters in a new Administration.

Our task will not be easy, but it has never been easy. The oil industry is funding Newt Gingrich to hold a big raucus celebration of their “energy independence victory” in Atlanta on Tuesday, but we will not be holding a wake for our coast. We know in our hearts that, in the words of the late David Brower, we are not yet so desperate that we must burn our cathedrals for firewood.

Greed may have temporarily triumphed in the short term through the generous distribution of petrodollars in Congress and the idiotic falsehoods and senseless fear spread by the likes of Fox News, but there is absolutely no other practical path ahead than to pursue an efficient transition to a new energy ethic to be constructively applied throughout the industrial world, beginning in an America that once again leads by positive example.

Attached are some suggested messaging points(HERE) for your consideration and use leading up to this week’s inevitable questions from reporters, and to the potential Senate vote on the DeMint legislation. The oil industry already appears to be planting numerous editorials in coastal states to the effect that residents need not worry, drilling rigs will not appear anytime soon, and these same industry PR efforts are sowing disinformation to the effect that individual states will be able to prevent offshore drilling if they don’t want it.

Thanking every single person who sent emails, wrote condolences, and who shed tears these past few days over just how inept and uncaring Congress could be at this time, thanking each and every single one of you who spent countless hours of volunteer time, some for three decades, to save the coast for our grandchildren, and most of all, reminding you, as if you needed it, that this is absolutely NOT over…

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AYESHA RASCOE, Reuters, September 16, 2008

WASHINGTON  – The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that lifts a longstanding ban on offshore oil drilling, opening most of the U.S. coastline to exploration.

The package proposed by Democrats would give states the option to allow drilling between 50 and 100 miles (80 and 160 km) off their shores. Areas more than 100 miles from the coast would be completely open to oil exploration and drilling.

The House voted 236 to 189 in favor of the package.

Until recently, Democratic leaders in Congress strongly opposed lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling, saying drilling would have only a small impact on gasoline prices in the immediate future.

But as gasoline prices rose to levels above $4 a gallon this summer, public opinion shifted in favor of offshore drilling. Republicans made removing the ban on drilling a key campaign issue for their party in this election year.

With the moratorium facing expiration on September 30 and voter sentiment changing, Democrats supported repealing the ban as part of a larger energy package.

House Republicans, however, strongly protested the Democrats’ package, calling the bill a “sham” and a “hoax.”

The bill faces a possible veto from the White House.

“At a time when American families are in need of genuine relief from the effects of high fuel prices, this bill purports to open access to American energy sources while in reality taking actions to stifle development,” the White House said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill say since the bill does not include a revenue sharing plan, states will not have an incentive to open their coasts to exploration. Another complaint is that the requirement that drilling occur at least 50 miles away from the U.S. coast closes a great deal of the outer continental shelf where oil may be located.

Democrats countered that their package would open 319 million acres to 404 million acres off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling.

“This legislation is a result of reasonable compromise that will put us on a path to energy independence by expanding domestic supply,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Conservation groups blasted the House bill, however, for not protecting the environment. “As it stands, the clean energy provisions in this bill are dwarfed by the push for outdated, dirty and expensive energy,” said Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke.

Later this week, the Senate is expected to take up energy legislation that would expand offshore drilling, but not as much as the House. Both chambers would have to reconcile differences between their bills before a final energy package could be sent to the White House to be signed into law.

Time is running out for lawmakers to pass legislation as Congress is scheduled to adjourn on September 26.

Other provisions in the House energy package include:

  • Selling 70 million barrels of light crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to be replaced with heavy crude oil.
  • Offering renewable energy and efficiency tax credits that would be funded by repealing some tax breaks for the oil industry.
  • Allowing oil shale development in some western states, if the states approve.

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