Interior Releases Draft Program for New Offshore Leases; Future Uncertain

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The U.S. Department of the Interior on July 1, 2022, released its long-awaited update on the next Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) five-year proposed offshore drilling program (Program), a day after the previous program expired.1 Under Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), as amended, the Interior Secretary must "prepare and periodically revise, and maintain" a five-year program that indicates proposed public oil and natural gas lease sales in U.S. waters.2 Since 1980, nine five-year programs, along with a revised version of one program, have been submitted to Congress. The five-year programs have reflected the offshore oil and gas leasing policies of different presidential administrations, along with input from states, members of Congress and other stakeholders.

On its face, the new Program appears to track the last of the Obama Administration's five-year programs, proposing to hold 10 lease sales over five years in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico planning areas and one in the Cook Inlet planning area in Alaska, for a total of 11 proposed lease sales – with no proposed new lease sales in the Atlantic and Pacific. However, a closer review of the Program reveals the tentative nature of Interior's proposition to hold new lease sales. The Program makes clear that Interior is inviting public comment on holding no lease sales as an option. Additionally, the Interior Department's press release indicates only tepid support for additional offshore oil and gas lease sales.

"From Day One, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now,"3 said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Given the conflicting and tentative nature of the five-year Program, it remains uncertain whether the 11 lease sales called for in the Program will take place. Indeed, in its press release, Interior warns that the proposed areas for new leasing could "… be further narrowed or areas could be excluded [from new leasing.]"

Call for Public Comment

Once the Program is officially published in the Federal Register, a 90-day public comment period will commence. Following the 90-day comment period, Interior will submit a "Final Proposal Program" to the president and Congress. The Program becomes final following a 60-day review by the president and Congress. Interior is also planning to host four virtual meetings to obtain public input in August. Until this new offshore drilling program becomes final, no new lease sales can be held for drilling in U.S. waters.

Notes

1 National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2023-28, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

2 43 U.S.C. § 1344(a).

3 Interior Department Invites Public Comment on Proposed Five Year Program for Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing, U.S. Department of the Interior (July 1, 2022).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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