US Explores Future Offshore Drilling Plans

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The U.S. Interior Department asked the energy industry, environmental groups, state officials and others for suggestions on how to develop a federal energy leasing plan through 2012 for all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf, according to a Reuters report.

However, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said she would uphold a White House promise and not offer any federal leases through 2012 within 100 miles of Florida's coast.

The new U.S. energy law requires the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service to conduct a comprehensive inventory and analysis of oil and natural gas resources for all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.

That provision was included despite opposition from senators from Florida, California, Florida and North Carolina who said the inventory will eventually lead to drilling that could threaten their tourism industries.

The Interior Department said it was seeking general comments from the public on offshore oil and gas development as the government develops its 2007-2012 leasing plan. The current five-year leasing program expires on June 30, 2007.

Public comments are due by Oct. 11 . Currently, federal offshore drilling is allowed only in four states -- Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. It specifically asked for comments on the "economic, social, and environmental values" of oil and gas contained in federal offshore waters.

The Interior Department also said it was considering whether it should work with Congress to develop gas-only leases. The Outer Continental Shelf may contain as much as 76 billion barrels of oil and 406 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that can be recovered with existing technology, according to government estimates.

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