2017-2022 Proposed Final Program Frequently Asked Questions - Additional Questions

General Alaska Atlantic Gulf of Mexico Pacific Additional Questions

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Why is this planning process necessary?

The Five-Year Program planning process mandated by the Congress through the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) was specifically designed to provide a long-term strategic approach to exploration and development of the Nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas resources to best meet the nation’s energy needs.

A significant portion—some 16 percent of America’s domestic crude oil production and 5 percent of our natural gas production –comes from the Nation’s OCS. That production is coming from leases issued as a result of previous five-year programs going back decades.

How much energy does the Outer Continental Shelf provide our nation?

The Outer Continental Shelf currently provides about 16 percent of domestic oil production and about 5 percent of domestic natural gas production. In 2015, production on the U.S. OCS provided 567 million barrels of oil and 1.35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the equivalent of the energy needed to power about 119 million U.S. households for one year.

What is a Lease Sale?

A lease sale is the process by which BOEM may transfer the right to explore and develop the oil and natural gas resources within the leased area of the OCS, subject to the Department of the Interior's approval and regulation. Before each sale, BOEM prepares National Environmental Policy Act documents. BOEM conducts each lease sale pursuant to all relevant statutes, as well as its own regulations.

The Department of the Interior (through BOEM and BSEE) has an extensive regulatory and inspection program; can you describe this a bit more?

Once a lease is obtained, a company must file an exploration plan before drilling any wells, which is subject to a technical and environmental review by BOEM, followed by an engineering review and drilling permit review and approval by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). If a discovery is made and the company is interested in developing it, the company must file a development and production plan for BOEM to review before production can begin. For major facilities, BSEE conducts an onsite inspection before allowing production to begin. Often this is a joint inspection with the US Coast Guard. Other applicable permits, such as waste discharge permits, must also be obtained from other Federal agencies, as required by law. BSEE has inspectors that daily fly offshore to conduct safety and environmental inspections.

What is the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)?

The Outer Continental Shelf consists of all submerged lands (the seafloor) lying seaward of State waters. The OCS begins three nautical miles off the coast (except for Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida, where state submerged lands extend to approximately nine nautical miles) and extends to at least 200 nautical miles (unless it meets another country’s submerged lands closer than 200 nautical miles).

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) manages over 1.7 billion acres of submerged lands on the OCS.

What is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)?

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, or OCSLA, was passed in 1953, and authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to lease portions of the OCS for oil and gas development, minerals extraction, and renewable energy development. As a result of amendments in 1978, the OCSLA dictates that the first step is to prepare and maintain a schedule of proposed lease sales determined to “best meet national energy needs for the five-year period following its approval or reapproval.”

What is a Programmatic EIS?

A Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Programmatic EIS) is a document that analyzes the potential environmental impacts of an action with a broad geographic scope, such as oil and gas leasing in Outer Continental Shelf waters. BOEM uses the Programmatic EIS to analyze the most important environmental issues when it comes to oil and gas leasing; how we can effectively avoid or manage environmental impacts; and what other options, or alternatives, for the proposed action are available. BOEM begins to determine what the issues and impacts are through a process under NEPA called "scoping."

What is scoping?

Scoping is the process used to identify all of the issues BOEM should consider when developing the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Programmatic EIS). The "scope" of the Programmatic EIS includes all of the issues that BOEM should consider when it is analyzing the potential effects of the Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. It also includes the recommendation of other options – or "alternatives" – BOEM should look at in addition to what is being proposed. BOEM seeks public input to tell us what environmental resources and potential impacts are most important when it comes to oil and gas development on the OCS.

Why is a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Programmatic EIS) developed as part of the process to develop a new Five-Year Program?

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) decided to prepare a Programmatic EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to address environmental and predictive information requirements required under Section 18 of the OCSLA. The Programmatic EIS addresses potential environmental impacts that could result if activities occur under leases issued under a proposed schedule of lease sales.

How did the information gathered for the Environmental Impact Statement affect the final decision about where oil and gas leasing will take place?

In addition to the analyses and decision documents prepared pursuant to Section 18, BOEM has prepared the 2017–2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Programmatic EIS) to evaluate the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with the Program and considers alternatives that may avoid or reduce potential impacts. The Secretary cited the Programmatic EIS several times in the Summary of Decision of the PFP. For example, the Final Programmatic EIS analyzes the potential exclusion of several Environmentally Important Areas. These areas represent regions of important environmental value where there is potential for conflict between ecologically important or sensitive habitats; maintenance of social, cultural, and economic resources; and possible oil and gas development. The identification and analysis of four Environmentally Important Areas in the Beaufort Sea and two in the Chukchi Sea underscores the ecological and sociocultural complexities and particular multiple use challenges of the Arctic (see Final Programmatic EIS).

Current and predictive information shows that climate change-induced temperature increases are occurring fastest in the polar regions, resulting in a disproportionate amount of changes to the physical, biological and chemical environments, such as alteration of species distribution, reduction in seasonal ice cover, and loss of permafrost. Loss of sea ice coverage reduces the available habitat for ice-dependent species such as polar bears and Pacific walrus. Such conditions and stressors may increase the vulnerability of these environmental resources and reduce their resilience to impacts of OCS oil and gas activities.

Additionally, the remote nature of the Arctic program areas, the lack of widespread infrastructure, and the presence of sea ice for a large part of the year also make Arctic coastal zones more vulnerable to impacts from oil spills because of the challenges associated with conducting cleanup activities in the event of an oil spill (see the Final Programmatic EIS for detailed information on oil spill impacts).