Feds on track to sell leases in western Gulf this year

The federal government is on track to sell offshore drilling leases in the western Gulf of Mexico later this year, after completing a new environmental analysis of the region that was spurred by last year’s oil spill.

According to a notice set to appear in tomorrow’s Federal Register, U.S. drilling regulators have completed a draft of that so-called supplemental environmental impact statement, which paves the way for the planned lease sale later this year.

That analysis updates an older environmental impact statement that was conducted before last year’s spill. It also confirms that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is splitting the environmental review process into two parts — one assessing the western Gulf of Mexico and a second analysis focused on the gulf’s central planning area.

By dividing up those reviews, the ocean energy bureau is boosting its odds of completing the study in time for a western Gulf lease sale this year. If regulators had assessed the central and western parts of the Gulf simultaneously, industry leaders feared that work would take so long that planned offshore lease sales would be postponed until 2012.

But the western Gulf sale that is queued up is generally viewed as less commercially attractive than a separate planned sale of deep-water tracts in the central planning area. That includes areas near the Macondo well that blew out last year.

The supplemental environmental review “will allow us to make objective, science-based decisions about the activities involved in offshore energy exploration, development and production,” said Michael Bromwich, the bureau director. “The public hearings on the draft SEIS we are announcing today are key steps to obtain public input on the environmental impact of oil and gas operations after Deepwater Horizon.”

The public can weigh in on the new supplemental environmental impact statement in writing and at public meetings planned next month on the Gulf Coast. Here are the details:

  • Submit comments by e-mail to EIS@boemre.gov by June 6, 2011.
  • Submit comments by postal mail referencing “Comments on the WPA Draft SEIS,” to Gary D. Goeke, Chief, Environmental Assessment Section, Leasing and Environment (MS 5410), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394.
  • Attend a public meeting in Houston at 1 p.m. central time on Tuesday, May 17. The meeting will be held at the Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush Intercontinental, located at 18700 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
  • Attend a public meeting in New Orleans at 1 p.m. central time on Thursday, May 19. The meeting will be held at the BOEMRE office located at 1201Elmwood Park Boulevard.