On September 21, the comment period ended for the Department of the Interior’s Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). The DPP would replace the current program covering 2007-2012. With President Bush’s removal of the Executive withdrawal on offshore oil and gas exploration, along with Congress’ allowing its ban to expire, areas of the OCS are now available for leasing that were not included in the current five-year program. Consequently, in January, the Minerals Management Service solicited comments from the public and industry “to ensure the broadest possible review” of the areas that President Bush and Congress made available. In February, one of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s first acts was to announce a strategy for offshore energy development, which included the extension of the comment period an additional 180 days.

With the closure of the public comment period, the Obama Administration will review the comments and decide where to allow offshore oil and gas development on the OCS. Many expect the Administration’s proposal to be far more restrictive than the DPP released by the Bush Administration in January. Moreover, Secretary Salazar has signaled that he is in no hurry to implement a new program before the current one expires in 2012, angering some members of Congress and leaving the oil and gas industry wondering whether it will see a de-facto moratorium on areas that Congress and the Bush Administration put on the table for development.

Secretary Salazar is in no way bound to adopt the Bush Administration’s proposal and in fact has given himself a large degree of wiggle room on the next five-year program. Consequently, it is vital that stakeholders favoring increased domestic energy take advantage of the remaining opportunities for public involvement and weigh in with the Administration before a final program is announced.