The US Department of Interior (DOI) has announced its plans to include nearly the entire US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for potential oil and gas lease sales for future exploration and development.

US Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) would include over 90% of the total OCS acreage and more than 98% of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas.

The new leasing progrom will be undertaken by the Departement from 2019 to 2024. 

US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said: "Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.

“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

Zinke’s new Draft Proposed Program (DPP) comprises 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas. These include 19 lease sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic Region.

US Interior Energy Policy counselor Vincent DeVito said: “By proposing to open up nearly the entire OCS for potential oil and gas exploration, the United States can advance the goal of moving from aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance.

“This decision could bring unprecedented access to America’s extensive offshore oil and gas resources and allows us to better compete with other oil-rich nations.”

Meanwhile, a Notice of Intent (NOI) is being published by the DOI to prepare a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The new draft proposal, however, is being opposed by environmental groups, governors and local business leaders due to concerns of environmental risks and threats to lucrative tourism industries as a result of drilling at open coastlines, Reuters reported.