Part 2, Sec. 2C6
Human Activities - Offshore Oil and Gas Activity

6. Offshore Oil and Gas Activity

The Secretary of the Interior has the statutory authority and responsibility to plan for and to conduct the offering of leases of OCS acreage, as directed in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, as amended (OCSLA) (43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq.). Within the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has primary responsibility for management of OCS minerals operations.

Pursuant to Section 18 of the OCSLA, the Secretary of the Interior, through the MMS, prepares, periodically revises, and maintains an oil and gas leasing program to carry out OCSLA policies. (43 U.S.C. § 1344). This leasing program consists of a schedule of proposed offshore lease sales indicating as precisely as possible the size, timing, and location of leasing activity determined to best meet national energy requirements for the five-year period following approval or re-approval of the schedule. Previous to 1978, OCS leasing programs were issued via discretionary act of the Secretary of DOI. In June 1980, the first five-year OCS oil and gas leasing program was approved, covering the period September 1980 through June 1985. To date, a total of three five-year programs have been approved, the last of which covers the period between mid-1987 and mid-1992.

For purposes of OCS oil and gas leasing activities, the Atlantic OCS Region (extending from offshore Maine to the Florida Keys) is subdivided into four planning areas. Stellwagen Bank occurs within the northwest portion of the North Atlantic Planning Area of the Atlantic OCS Region (Figure 10). Within this Planning Area, three areas of hydrocarbon potential have been identified: 1) the Gulf of Maine; 2) the Georges Bank Basin, and 3) the deep-water area seaward of the continental slope. Limited geological and geophysical data exist related to the Gulf of Maine area; and the petroleum potential of this area is not well known. (U.S. DOI, MMS, 1989). The first of two COST (Continental Offshore Stratigraphic Test) wells was drilled in the Georges Bank Basin in April 1976. Eight additional wells were drilled in the Georges Bank Basin in 1981-1982. Drilling sites ranged from 110 to 150 miles southeast of Nantucket Island. The results of these drillings were negative, and the wells were subsequently plugged. No OCS oil and gas lease sale activities have been conducted within the area of the proposed Sanctuary. No exploratory wells have been drilled anywhere on the Atlantic OCS since 1984.

Initial industry interest in the overall Atlantic OCS region focused on an ancient buried reef trend, believed to extend intermittently from Massachusetts to Florida. However, industry interest in the Atlantic OCS has decreased since 1984 for two reasons: 1) leasing moratoria and numerous OCS subarea deferrals; and 2) failure to locate commercially viable quantities of oil or natural gas. (U.S. DOI, MMS, 1989).

The current 5-Year Leasing Program Mid-1987 to Mid-1992 proposes two lease sales for the North Atlantic Region: Sale #96 (scheduled for February 1989), and Sale #134, (scheduled for February 1992). Both Sales are currently cancelled due to a Presidential Order, signed on June 26, 1990. Under that Order, no OCS leasing and development activity may occur in the Georges Bank area of the North Atlantic Planning Area until after the year 2000. Stellwagen Bank is included within the area covered by this Order. Therefore, no leases will be offered within the vicinity of the proposed Sanctuary in the foreseeable future. However, based upon the September 25, 1990 recommendation of the Director of MMS, the North Atlantic Planning Area would be considered for MMS geologic and environmental studies during the currently proposed mid-1992 to mid-1997 five-year oil and gas leasing program.

Marine transportation issues related to the transport of oil and gas resources have also been examined for the North Atlantic Planning Area. The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office has conducted a preliminary pipeline siting study for natural gas originating from the OCS. The study focused on the types of data necessary for identification of natural gas pipeline corridors, including physical, geological, and biological features and existing land-use patterns. Transportation scenarios are developed based on the proximity of potential hydrocarbon discoveries to existing refineries or processing facilities. Preliminary identification also was made of potential pipeline corridors. However, since no commercially producible quantities of oil and gas have been discovered, no pipeline or tanker routes have been designated.

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