Interior Secretary Salazar Slows Process

There is no victory yet. We need to continue to press forward with our opposition.

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 11 — Nick Snow – OGJ Washington Editor

Calling it “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Feb. 10 that he was delaying a 5-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan, which his predecessor launched last summer.

“To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside the Bush administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timeline,” he told reporters at DOI headquarters.

He said he would add 180 days to the public comment period on the plan, which the US Minerals Management Service’s OCS Planning Committee approved on Dec. 10, 2008, so coastal states and communities would have more time to study it. The original deadline was Mar. 23.

Salazar also said he was ordering the US Geological Survey and US Minerals Management Service to prepare an evaluation of US offshore conventional and alternative resource potential within 45 days. Based on that report, he said that DOI would then determine which areas need more information and would create a plan to gather it.

The secretary said it would hold four regional meetings after USGS and MMS complete their study to discuss findings affecting the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaskan OCS areas. (Scheduled for Late April / Early May) He also said he intends to issue a final rulemaking for renewable energy on the OCS within the next few months.

“To those of you from the oil and gas industry, I pledge that you will have a seat at the table in this administration. I assure you that you will play an important role in helping us meet our nation’s energy needs,” Salazar said. But he added that US President Barack H. Obama and he agree that a new comprehensive energy plan “that takes us to the new energy frontier and secures our energy independence” must be developed. “A drill-only approach, onshore or offshore, is not enough,” the secretary said.

The chairmen of two major congressional committees dealing with energy applauded Salazar’s action. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) said that it gives the nation an opportunity to take a more reasoned and responsible approach to ensure a fair return to taxpayers. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said that Salazar’s strategy was thoughtful and balanced, and that his plan to hold regional conferences makes sense.

Oil and gas associations were critical, however. American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said the OCS plan that Salazar placed on hold received a record 187,000 comments from states, environmental groups, industry, labor groups, and the general public, “with 87,000 of those comments supporting expanded and expeditious development.

“Congress made the American people wait nearly 30 years to address our immediate energy challenges. Secretary Salazar today told the American people they must continue to wait, even though more than two thirds of them want to tap our vast domestic resources for the benefit of all Americans,” Gerard said.

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