Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Categorical Exclusions for Offshore Drilling Restricted

The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) announced that the department will restrict its use of categorical exclusions for offshore oil and gas development to activities involving limited environmental risk, while it undertakes a comprehensive review of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process and the use of categorical exclusions for exploration and drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Department of the Interior intends to conduct a new environmental analysis in the Gulf of Mexico that will help provide information to guide future leasing and development decisions. BOEM intents to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement for the Gulf.

The announcements follow the release of the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) report on the former Minerals Management Service’s NEPA program. The report was done in close consultation with Interior and BOEM which replaced the Minerals Management Service.

BOEM will issue a Federal Register notice announcing a formal process for the comprehensive review and evaluation of its use of categorical exclusions in relation to offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling activities. While this review is underway, BOEM will be using categorical exclusions on a more limited basis. For actions that potentially involve more significant environmental risk, Department of Interior officials intend to subject more decisions to environmental assessments.

When the review is completed, BOEM will announce a new approach to NEPA compliance that takes into account the joint recommendations included in CEQ‘s report, statutory and/or regulatory constraints, and other appropriate factors. This is consistent with the Council’s regulations directing all federal agencies to periodically review their NEPA policies and procedures.

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