Today the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced a new draft proposal for opening up offshore oil and gas exploration. As proposed, the new five-year plan would make several major changes. They include:

  • Over 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas would be allowed to be considered for exploration and potential development
  • The number of lease sales proposed (47) would be the largest in U.S. history
  • Lease sales are proposed for 25 of the 26 planning areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) — none are proposed for the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area off Alaska
  • Nine lease sales are proposed for the Atlantic region, where there have been no sales since 1983 (and none planned)
  • Three of those are proposed for the mid-Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia, starting in 2020

The issue is of keen interest in North Carolina, where the potential for offshore recovery is significant. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) under the Obama administration had estimated that the mid-Atlantic OCS holds about 2.4 billion technically recoverable barrels of oil and 2.34 trillion technically recoverable cubic feet of natural gas.

Those reserves are thought to be some distance from the shores. Old energy industry surveys estimated those reserves to be at least 40 miles off the coast, going out to about 100 miles.

Obama’s sudden reversal

In 2016, President Barack Obama reneged on his promise to allow oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic region, which was to be part of his stated “all-of-the-above” approach toward domestic energy production. Instead, in a stark election-year reversal, his administration’s final five-year plan put 94 percent of the OCS off-limits from leasing.

On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring executive departments and agencies to identify and appropriately address existing regulations that “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” A month later, Trump issued a follow-up executive order to “encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf.”

Today’s action is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s ongoing response to those orders.

BOEM will hold a public meeting in Raleigh on February 26 to take comments on the proposal.