Platts: DOI Chief Says Atlantic OCS Seismic Studies Near

January 26, 2010

The process to allow seismic studies of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)—the first step in considering crude oil and gas exploration there—will start on Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.      


The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) will invite public comment on the environmental impact of such studies this week and allow 45 days for responses, Salazar said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters at Platts Energy Podium, a Washington newsmaker event.


Based on the public comments it receives, Interior will develop an environmental impact statement, which will determine where seismic studies should be done and start the process of awarding those contracts.


There are at least nine companies interested in doing the seismic studies that will map oil and gas resources off the Atlantic coast, Salazar said.


“For 30 years there has been no geophysical information that has been developed in connection with the resources out in the Atlantic," Salazar said.


Virginia officials have recently urged the federal government to consider granting oil and gas leases off the Atlantic coast.


Salazar also said a comprehensive plan for exploration and production in the OCS will be released in the coming weeks that will both deal with the existing five-year plan, which expires in 2012, and lay out a new five-year plan.


"We will see a comprehensive proposal going forward in the coming months, in the very near term," he said. "We will make the decisions regarding the 2007-12 plan; at the same time we will look forward."


Salazar would not comment on any plans for oil and gas tax breaks that may be contained in the Obama administration budget to be released on February 1. Last year, the administration proposed a number of rollbacks in tax breaks previously given to the industry.


But Salazar did hint that he is considering a hike in royalty rates on onshore oil and gas leases, which have stood at 12.5% for years. Salazar compared the federal rate with the 20-30% being charged by the state of Texas.


"Are we getting a fair return for the American taxpayer by having a royalty that is 12.5% that has been in place for a very long time?" Salazar asked. "That's a big question. That is part of what we will be answering with respect to our reforms."


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