" Zinke proposes to open over 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling "
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold a public hearing in Augusta on Monday, January 22, on plans to open up the nation’s coasts to oil and gas drilling — including two sites in the North Atlantic that would be available for lease to oil companies starting in 2021.

The hearing is scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.

There have been no sales of oil and gas drilling leases in the Atlantic since 1983 and there are no existing leases.

It is the largest proposed sale of oil and gas leases in U.S. history. Currently, 94 percent of the ocean continental shelf is off limits to offshore drilling. This new Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) proposal flips that, potentially opening up over 90 percent of the nation’s coasts.

Nine sites in the Atlantic are targeted, according to BOEM. In total, 47 offshore sites in U.S. federal waters will be considered for leasing out to petroleum companies for test drilling and potential commercial extraction.

The Gulf of Mexico and the Alaska coast are the top targets. Nineteen of the new sites up for exploitation are in Alaska and 12 are in the Gulf of Mexico.

Public input is being sought at hearings around the country before the OCS Program is finalized in 2019. Federal law requires the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees BOEM, to get public input, assess environmental impacts, and indicate the size, timing and location of leases that he deems would best meet national energy needs for the five-year period following program approval.

Adverse effects on the coast are also assessed, according to a press release from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s office. Zinke characterized the ocean drilling proposal as a money-maker for the federal government that will also advance conservation initiatives.

“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,” said Zinke. He also stressed the need for American energy independence and global oil dominance.

“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks,” Zinke said. “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

Presenting the draft drilling proposal to the public and getting feedback is the first step in the process. Bureau officials will then revise the draft for further public comment, along with an environmental impact statement.

Approval of the final proposal is up to the Secretary of the Interior.

Twenty-three federal public hearings will be held around the country starting next week. A separate virtual meeting for those who cannot attend in person is being developed. Comments can also be submitted online.

To submit comments and find more information about the proposal and the OCS Program, including maps, see www.boem.gov/National-Program/.