Watching Government: A nagging Atlantic OCS question
By Nick Snow Washington Editor
Serious questions remained after the US Department of the Interior canceled a Mid-Atlantic lease sale during the forthcoming 2017-22 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas program on Mar. 15. The biggest may be whether it's dragging its feet on finding out what's actually out there.
Interior Sec. Sally Jewell and US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper said the withdrawal was based on the best available science, among other factors.
"The market reality now is that onshore production has increased in the last few years," Hopper said during a teleconference with reporters. "When we looked at the production we'd receive from a single lease sale in the South Atlantic, we determined that national security would not be hurt if it didn't take place."
Neither she nor Jewell mentioned that on the Atlantic OCS, the best available science is decades old. It predates 3D seismic mapping, which has dramatically reduced the number of dry holes in areas with a flat nearly horizon, such as the OCS.
At BOEM's web site, in the Resource Evaluations section under Oil & Gas Energy Programs, clicking on the Atlantic part of an OCS Reserves Inventory map reveals the following: "There are currently no active leases in the Atlantic OCS Region and no reserves inventory information is available."
BOEM has been working with geophysical contractors to run fresh Atlantic OCS seismic despite fierce opposition from Oceana and other environmental groups.
But at a Mar. 14 press teleconference, International Association of Geophysical Contractors Executive Vice-Pres. Walt Rosenbusch revealed that another federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, keeps stalling on whether to issue the contractors necessary incidental take authorizations, or ITAs.
Neither NMFS nor BOEM have explained why this review has taken twice as long as normal. Rosenbusch said other delays also are keeping his members from going to work out there.
The situation may be similar to what Chevron Corp. encountered with a concession in Romania a few years ago. Green activists stirred up so much opposition, based on supposed drinking water dangers from hydraulic fracturing, that the company finally withdrew.
Edward Chow, who worked for the US multinational for 20 years before becoming a senior energy and national security fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said hydraulic fracturing should not have been an issue because Chevron simply wanted to drill exploratory wells.
Now, Romania is among the Eastern European countries considering LNG imports as an alternative to Russia's Gazprom, he said at a Mar. 22 Hudson Institute event on energy and geopolitics. "I think it would be in any government's interest to know what's down there," Chow said.
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