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BOEM says Shrinking Buffer Zone for Offshore Oil and Gas Not Possible

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is a vocal supporter of offshore exploration for oil and gas and its necessary precursor, seismic testing.  Just last month, McCrory testified in front of a House subcommittee in Washington asking to shrink the fifty-mile buffer zone.  But such a move would require the entire process to start over, according to a top official at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

If the 50-mile buffer zone remains, says McCrory, up to forty percent of North Carolina’s offshore oil and gas resource could be overlooked.  But when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, unveiled the Draft Proposed Program in January, the agency laid out what is essentially a winnowing process. 

Walter Cruickshank is BOEM’s Deputy Director.  He says that means elements from the proposal can be removed, such as the number of sales available or the area offered for sale.

"But you can’t add things back in unless you go back to a prior step and essentially start over.  So we cannot move the boundary of that buffer closer to shore, though we could move it farther from shore under the way the law is set up. 

"We believe that the buffer makes available about 70% of the resources that are available in the mid- and south Atlantic."

Another important agenda item for McCrory:  crafting a revenue-sharing agreement with the federal government. 

Whether such an agreement is in the cards is beyond the scope of BOEM’s authority, says Cruickshank.  That’s a question for Congress.

"I will note that there is revenue-sharing in the Gulf of Mexico from leases that are much farther offshore than 50 miles."

BOEM is analyzing ten applications from eight companies for seismic testing permits.  No word yet on how soon surveying could begin.