Abbey to Strengthen Safety Requirements for Exploration and Development Plans on Outer Continental Shelf

All Pending and Approved Plans Must Be Revised Before New Drilling

Last edited 09/29/2021

Washington, DC: Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, who has been called upon to also serve as Acting Director of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), today announced that, before drilling new oil and gas wells on the Outer Continental Shelf, operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations in their plans for exploration or development. Exploration plans and development plans that have already been approved by MMS, including those that were approved using ‘categorical exclusions' under the National Environmental Policy Act, will need to be resubmitted before any drilling of new wells.

“The moratorium on deepwater drilling that Secretary Salazar has ordered is a prudent step that will allow time for the Presidential Commission to complete its review of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and for immediate safety and environmental reforms to be implemented,” said Abbey. “Pulling back exploration plans and development plans and requiring them to be updated with new information is consistent with this cautious approach and will ensure that new safety standards and risk considerations are incorporated into those planning documents. In the long term, we also need Congress to approve the Administration's proposal to fix the law that requires MMS to review exploration plans within a 30-day mandatory deadline.”

Director Abbey's directive, which will be communicated to operators and lessees through a Notice to Lessees (NTL), will establish separate requirements for deep water and shallow water exploration and development plans.

Deep Water Exploration Plans and Development Plans

A six month deep water drilling moratorium implemented by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Sunday, May 29, currently prohibits drilling of new oil and gas wells in water depths greater than 500 feet.

Director Abbey's announcement today makes clear that after the deep water drilling moratorium, any new drilling must be under an exploration plan or development plan that takes into account new safety and environmental requirements and the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Shallow Water Exploration Plans and Development Plans

Oil and gas operations in waters less than 500 feet deep may move forward if they satisfy new safety and environmental requirements identified in Secretary Salazar's report to the President. Director Abbey's announcement today makes clear that any new drilling in shallow water must be under an exploration plan or development plan that includes information demonstrating compliance with the new safety standards.

Call for Congressional Action to Lift 30-Day Mandatory Deadline on Exploration Plan Reviews

Director Abbey will issue the exploration plan and development plan directive under his authority to ensure that operations on the Outer Continental Shelf are always conducted in a safe and workmanlike manner, to prevent injury or loss of life, and to prevent damage to any natural resource or the environment.

Director Abbey also reiterated, however, that Congress should approve the Administration's proposal to provide MMS more time to conduct reviews of exploration plans. Under current law, MMS is required to review exploration plans within 30 days. In the oil spill response legislation submitted to Congress on May 12, the Obama Administration is proposing to change the 30-day congressionally-mandated deadline to a 90-day timeline that can be further extended to complete additional environmental and safety reviews, as needed.

The Department of the Interior, together with the Council on Environmental Quality, is also conducting a review of MMS's use of categorical exclusions.

“The approach I am announcing today is not an ideal solution, but it is an interim strategy that MMS will employ until Congress fixes the law and until additional reform recommendations from CEQ and DOI are developed and implemented,” said Abbey.

The Department of the Interior will be issuing a Notice to Lessees (NTL) describing the interim approach MMS will be taking on reviewing exploration and development plans.

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