The U.S. government on Tuesday unveiled a five-year offshore drilling leasing program which would open up more areas in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling.
The U.S. Interior Department's Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017 will open up more than 75 percent of potential resources through 15 lease sales in six offshore areas, including Beaufort and Chukchi seas and the Cook Inlet off Alaska as well as the eastern, central, and western parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
The program envisions five annual lease sales to begin in the fall of 2012 in the western Gulf of Mexico; five annual lease sales beginning in the spring of 2013 in the central Gulf of Mexico; and two lease sales in 2014 and 2016 in eastern Gulf regions.
The program also envisions one lease sale in Beaufort Sea, one sale in Chukchi Sea, but they are not scheduled until 2015 and 2016 to allow further studies of environmental issues, subsistence use needs, and infrastructure capabilities in those sea areas.
Meanwhile, the proposed program does not include lease sales in the Atlantic region and areas off the Pacific coast.
This is the Obama administration's first long-term program for offshore drilling.
The program is consistent with the Obama Administration's blueprint for a Security Energy Future, which aims to promote domestic energy security and reduce oil imports by a third by 2025 through a comprehensive national energy policy, the Interior Department said.
By opening up more areas off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, where drilling is underway, but not aggressively opening up other areas such as the Atlantic Ocean, the Obama administration is trying to strike a balance between appeasing drilling proponents and not angering environmentalists and drilling opponents, analysts said.
But the proposal already drew criticism from drilling proponents and opponents, according to local media reports.
Drilling proponents, led by Republicans and industry groups, criticized the program for being too modest, while environmentalists questioned the opening of areas off Alaska, as Coast Guard officials and others have repeatedly warned that the areas are not prepared for potential oil spills.
A senior official with the American Petroleum Institute, the industry's largest grade group, said the program should have gone much further.
"This is a missed opportunity to open additional areas that could have helped address rising energy demand, create American jobs and reduce the federal deficit," Erik Milito, the group's director of upstream and industry operations, was quoted by local media as saying.