The US Interior Department has kicked off planning for the next five-year federal offshore leasing programme by requesting public input to help shape the schedule for potential lease sales from 2017 to 2022.
The central and western portions of the Gulf of Mexico and select areas of Alaska are expected to remain on the schedule following the end of the roughly three-year process.
However, industry advocates and opponents are already mobilising to either expand or halt potential lease sales in the US mid-Atlantic waters.
"The United States has a long and successful history of producing oil and natural gas offshore, but government restrictions keep 87% of federal offshore waters locked away," said API Senior Policy Advisor Andy Radford.
National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said the disclosure of the start of the initial 45-day public comment ending 30 July was only a "first step".
"The current Five-Year Programme that expires in 2017 included no new access, and has put the US far behind many other nations that are actively pursuing offshore oil and natural gas energy development – particularly in the Atlantic basin and the Arctic," Luthi said.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell promised a "thorough and open process that incorporates stakeholder input and uses the best available science to develop a proposed offshore oil and gas programme that creates jobs and safely and responsibly meets the energy needs of the nation".
Acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Walter Cruickshank stressed repeatedly in a telephone press conference on Friday that "we are not proposing anything" and that today's announcement is just for "seeking public input".
The federal OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior, through BOEM, 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 for the five-year period following its approval.
The Interior Secretary is also required by statute to "achieve an appropriate balance among the potential for environmental impacts, for discovery of oil and gas, and for adverse effects on the coastal zone", according to a statement from the Department of Interior.
BOEM will seek input also on the economic, social and environmental values of all OCS resources, as well as the potential impact of oil and gas exploration and development on the marine, coastal and human environments.
BOEM also confirmed that it will update its resource estimates for all the OCS areas in federal waters.
Next, BOEM will prepare a draft proposed programme followed by a formal proposal before submitting a proposal for a final programme, including an environmental impact statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The current five-year programme for 2012–2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas including more than 75% of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters.
BOEM has held five sales so far including annual auctions in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and a single sale in a portion of the eastern Gulf.
Off Alaska, the current five-year programme includes one potential sale each for the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet planning areas.
BOEM manages about 6200 active OCS leases covering more than 33 million acres – the vast majority in the Gulf of Mexico. Of those, 1064 are producing leases, covering 5.2 million producing acres – the highest acreage under production since 2008.
In 2013, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for about 18% of US oil production and 5% domestic natural gas production.