In January, 2015, the Obama Administration released a draft of its five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. During the subsequent 60-day comment period, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) received “hundreds of thousands” of responses. After dedicating a year to analyzing those responses, the BOEM is expected to publish and make available for comment the updated 2017-2022 Proposed Program (PP) in the coming weeks.
In a 2014 report, BOEM credited a 20% increase in undiscovered natural gas to “improved data analysis techniques.” Those techniques enabled BOEM to estimate that the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf contains 37.51 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The DPP denotes eight OCS planning areas and fourteen potential lease sales, the most contentious sale being the Mid and South-Atlantic Ocean, a region currently under federal protection from drilling. If the PP does retain the potential Atlantic lease sale included in its 2015 draft, the newly opened waters could initiate another surge in the US oil and natural gas industry.
While estimates certainly indicate potential benefits for natural gas companies and the US economy as a whole, elected officials in states with an Atlantic coastline have mixed opinions. Several senators from Northeastern states – including Maryland and New Jersey – expressed skepticism over the environmental risks of increasing offshore drilling. While senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia called for “appropriate environmental reviews,” they also promised “to push for legislation to allow Virginia to have the same revenue-sharing system currently applied to Gulf Coast states.”
The PP represents a political conundrum for President Obama, as he has simultaneously touted the success of US natural gas production and advocated for environmentally conscious economic policies. Regardless of which route he prioritizes, the highly anticipated PP will play a large role in determining the US’s future energy agenda.