The U.S. Department of the Interior took its first steps on Friday to develop the next five-year schedule of potential offshore oil and gas lease sales.
Interior issued a request for information and comments on the oil and gas leasing program for U.S. coastal waters to run from 2017 to 2022, kicking off a 45-day comment period.
The planning process for federal waters surrounding the United States known as the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) will take up to three years to complete, the agency said.
"The development of the next five-year program will be a thorough and open process that incorporates stakeholder input and uses the best available science," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.
U.S. law requires the Interior Secretary, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, to prepare and maintain a schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales in federal waters, indicating the size, timing and location of auctions that would best meet national energy needs.
The secretary is required to balance potential environmental impacts, discovery of oil and gas, and adverse effects on the coastal zone.
The current five-year program expires in August 2017 and schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas judged to have the greatest resource potential.
BOEM has held five sales thus far, including annual auctions in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and a single sale in the Eastern Gulf.
Those auctions offered more than 60 million offshore acres and leased 4.3 million, generating more than $2.3 billion in high bids. The sixth lease sale in August 2014 will offer 21 million OCS acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico.
Oceana, a non-profit group focused on ocean conservation, said it fears the next five-year plan could open waters off the Atlantic Coast to development, and the risk of oil spills like BP's Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
"The Gulf is a devastating example of why we should not open new areas like the Atlantic to offshore drilling," said Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; editing by Andrew Hay)