Panel urges Interior to reexamine gas-prone offshore areas

A US Minerals Management Service advisory committee has urged the agency to reexamine the gas resources of offshore areas where moratoriums prevent exploration. It said such data would better help the Interior Department determine if it should ask Congress to remove bans against leasing in specific areas.


WASHINGTON, DC, May 24 -- A US Minerals Management Service advisory committee Thursday approved a recommendation urging the agency to investigate the gas resources of offshore areas where moratoriums prevent exploration.

The natural gas subcommittee of Interior's Outer Continental Shelf advisory board had proposed that MMS identify the most five most prospective offshore areas for gas production, obtain updated seismic and geological data, and examine the potential environmental impact of production. The subcommittee had been examining the issue for several months.

The advisory committee said such data would better help the Interior Department determine if it should ask Congress to remove bans against leasing in specific areas. The recommendation now goes to Interior Sec. Gale Norton.

Congressional spending moratoriums prohibit MMS from planning or conducting lease sales for the entire US East Coast, off western Florida, the West Coast, and much of the Alaskan offshore. The bulk of US offshore drilling is in the central and western Gulf of Mexico.

A National Ocean Industries Association spokesman said without updated studies, MMS would have to judge the gas potential of offshore areas under moratoriums based on data from the 1970s and 1980s.

The advisory committee's recommendation is consistent with a recommendation last week by the White House energy task force, headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

That study urged the Interior Department to examine the barriers to leasing, and potential oil and gas production from federal onshore lands where exploration is restricted.

The administration report also said the Interior and Commerce departments should reexamine federal laws regarding coastal zone management and the Outer Continental Shelf.

And it said Interior should proceed with a controversial lease sale in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (Sale 181) next December.

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