New Offshore Program Promises Greater Access to Alaska’s Offshore Arctic

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement after the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a new draft proposed Five-Year Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for 2019-2024. The draft proposal is the first step toward a more competitive offshore leasing program in the United States.

“This draft program is another positive step as we seek to reinforce our nation’s status as a global energy leader,” Murkowski said. “Secretary Zinke’s ‘blank slate’ approach launches a new discussion with local stakeholders to determine where responsible energy development should take place. While nothing in this proposal is final, it is good to see the administration seeking to expand access in places like Alaska, rather than limiting our opportunities. This is more good news as we seek to create jobs, keep energy affordable, and strengthen our long-term security.”

The draft proposed plan suggests 19 lease sales in Alaska’s OCS, including three sales in the Chukchi Sea; three sales in the Beaufort Sea; two sales in Cook Inlet; and one sale each in 11 other program areas. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently increased its estimate for the Beaufort Sea by 700 million barrels to a total of 8.9 billion barrels, while the Chukchi Sea is estimated to contain 15.4 billion barrels. The Cook Inlet is a developed basin but remains a critical source of natural gas to the Railbelt.  

The draft proposed program is the initial step in the decision making process and the first opportunity for public comment on the draft program. Areas that are included in the draft program may not be included in the final, based on comments by the public and further analysis by the department. However, areas that are excluded from the draft proposed program, like the North Aleutian Basin, are excluded from further consideration in this five year program.

Once the draft proposed program is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will follow. BOEM will conduct public meetings with local stakeholders across the country, including in Alaska, beginning on January 16. Details for the public meetings can be found here.

Murkowski is the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and in July 2017 led a letter to Secretary Zinke signed by 36 Senators encouraging a new offshore program.