Administration officials have put the brakes on future oil and gas leasing development in certain areas of the Outer Continental Shelf through 2017, modifying a Dept. of Interior proposal for the OCS leasing program released in March.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Dec. 1 that the updated strategy calls for agency officials to focus their efforts on planning areas that already have leases for potential future development.

Consequently, the area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium, as well as the Mid and South Atlantic planning areas, are no longer under consideration for further development through 2017, he said.

“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime,” he said. “As that regime continues to be developed and implemented, we have revised our initial March leasing strategy to focus and expand our critical resources on areas with leases that are currently active.”

Some 29 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico have been leased but not developed, Salazar noted. "Companies are moving forward on less than one-third of the leases they hold in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

New lease sales in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico under the 2007-2012 program are expected to begin next December, after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) completes additional environmental analyses that take into account the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The administration will move forward with conducting environmental analyses to determine whether seismic studies to support conventional and renewable energy planning should be conducted in the Mid- and South Atlantic, and whether future oil and gas development in the Arctic could be conducted safely.

According BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich, BOEMRE will honor existing leases in the Arctic. In addition, BOEMRE is working with Shell Oil on a pending application to drill one exploratory well in the Beaufort Sea in the summer of 2011.

The oil and gas industry blasted the administration for shifting course. The American Petroleum Institute’s president and CEO, Jack Gerard, said the administration’s decision could results in the loss of thousands of American jobs and billions in government revenues.

“The oil and natural gas industry is a reliable vehicle for growing the economy and creating good-paying jobs. This decision shuts the door on new development off our nation’s coasts and effectively ensures that new American jobs will not be realized.”

But environmental advocates praised the decision, urging the administration to focus on renewable energy sources such as offshore wind. Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, said, “We celebrate this administration’s emphasis on renewable, offshore wind energy from the ocean over a reliance on expanded drilling for dirty fossil fuels. This is a triumph of common-sense policy in our fight against global warming and a clear triumph for clean beaches, coasts and marine wildlife.”