Reaction to the administration’s decision to put the brakes on future oil and gas leasing development in certain areas of the Outer Continental Shelf through 2017 has been divided. Industry groups blasted the decision, saying it would stifle growth. But environmental groups praised the administration for learning from the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

On Dec. 1, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his agency would modify a proposal, released in March, for the OCS leasing program by choosing to focus resources 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,” he said.

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.”

Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s land protection director, says the decision “signals that the administration is heeding the lessons from the BP disaster” and that the proposal is a “step in the right direction” to ensuring that a similar accident does not occur.

But industry sources blasted the administration for shifting course. The American Petroleum Institute’s president and CEO, Jack Gerard, said the administration’s decision could result in the loss of thousands of American jobs and billions in government revenue.

“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,” Gerard said.

Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, says, “By failing to open these areas to drilling, our nation will be forced to rely even more heavily on non-domestic production, which will only discourage investment in new projects. Lower energy costs are key to helping spur job creation, and failing to open additional areas to drilling stifles job growth.”

Some portions of the March proposal will move forward, Salazar 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 to Michael Bromwich, BOEMRE director, the agency 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 summer 2011.