08/05/2018 - Regulatory Rollback

Offshore Oil and Gas 5-Year Leasing Program

by EELP Staff

Why It Matters

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, the Department of the Interior (DOI) underwent a significant reorganization and issued rules and guidance to fill regulatory gaps in emergency response and operational oversight (for more on these changes, see our post on the 10 year anniversary here). President Obama also removed certain areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas development, because of i) their proximity to productive fisheries, ii) their ecological value, or iii) their being too remote and rugged to support a proper response to spills and other accidents. (The outer continental shelf or OCS consists of “all submerged lands lying seaward of state coastal waters…under U.S. jurisdiction.”)

Trump made expanding areas of the offshore continental shelf to oil and gas leasing a key priority for his administration. By attempting to roll back President Obama’s protections and directing the Department of the Interior to expand leasing into new areas, he increases risks to the fishing and tourism industries in US oceans and coastal areas as well as to the ecological well-being of those areas.

Click here to view our page on the EO 13795: Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy and the other changes that have followed the EO. For more information on the reforms that followed the Deepwater Horizon disaster, view our 10-year anniversary post here.

Current Status

Trump’s April 28, 2017 Executive Order 13795 directed the Department of Interior to reconsider efforts to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development. Interior Secretary Zinke’s May 1, 2017 Secretarial Order 3350 instructed its sub-agencies on how to implement the Executive Order. These two orders kick off numerous actions related to leasing, regulatory rollback efforts, and permitting.

This page focuses on the development of the 2019-2024 5-Year Leasing Program in which the Administration proposes opening up vast new areas to leasing. This has kicked off significant pushback from Atlantic states on the possibility of drilling off their shores and would result in new lease sales in the Arctic.

The Trump Administration’s efforts to propose a new 5-year plan are currently on hold pending litigation. Lease sales continue under the existing 2017-2022 5-year Lease Program, some information on these sales is included at the bottom of this page.

June 5, 2020 The 9th Circuit holds oral arguments in the appeal of the District of Alaska decision that vacated portions of President Trump’s executive order. The argument is viewable here.


Jan. 27, 2015 Pres. Obama withdraws certain areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska from consideration for oil and gas leasing.

Dec. 20, 2016 President Obama issues two Presidential Memoranda withdrawing 3.8 million acres of OCS oil and gas development in the Atlantic and 115 million acres in the Arctic. All told, President Obama protects 125 million acres of the Arctic offshore.

Trump Era

April 28, 2017 President Trump signs Executive Order 13795 to “encourage energy exploration and production” on the OCS. The Executive Order directs reconsideration of many actions of the prior administration taken to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development. This includes efforts to limit areas available for leasing. The order directs Interior to expand offshore oil and gas leasing by:

  • considering lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South Atlantic, areas not yet open to oil and gas development; and
  • modifying President Obama’s 20, 2016 and Jan. 27, 2015 withdrawals of areas from oil and gas development to limit them to those areas designated as Marine Sanctuaries as of July 14, 2008.
New Five-Year Leasing Program

May 1, 2017 DOI Secretary Zinke issues Secretarial Order 3350 to direct BOEM and BSEE as to how to implement the president’s Executive Order. With regard to leasing, Zinke directed BOEM to initiate the development of a new Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

July 3, 2017 BOEM publishes a notice of the start of a public comment period soliciting information and documents to prepare an expanded 5-year leasing program for 2019-2024. Comment period ends Aug. 17, 2017.

Jan. 4, 2018 The Department of Interior releases a draft proposal for a 2019-2024 5-year leasing program that would open most US coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. The comment period on the proposed plan ends March 9, 2018. DOI says the draft proposal will open up “over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources” for oil and gas exploration and production.

Jan. 9, 2018 Interior Secretary Zinke says Florida will be off-limits because “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

Jan. 19, 2018 The acting Bureau of Ocean Energy Management head says no formal decision had been made to exclude Florida from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

March 5, 2018 227 state legislators send Secretary Zinke a letter opposing the 5-year proposal.

March 9, 2018 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo formally requests an exclusion from the new five-year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program

April 11, 2018 American Democracy Legal Fund submits a complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel alleging that Interior Secretary Zinke violated the Hatch Act in exempting Florida from the draft offshore leasing plan. The group argued that in doing so he “used his official position and government resources to partake in blatant political activity.”

April 20, 2018 New Jersey Governor Bill Murphy signs into law a bill meant to block offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in state-controlled waters (this would not impact federal leasing under a new 5-year leasing program). The bill also bans permitting of any infrastructure to serve drilling farther offshore in federally controlled waters

May 9, 2018 The Department of Defense sends a report to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Armed Services Committee stating that offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico will likely be incompatible with military training and testing.

May 11, 2018 Interior Secretary Zinke says in a Senate hearing during an exchange with Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen that Maryland would be off-limits because “there are no known (oil) resources off the coast of Maryland” and “the president has ensured that we take the local community in consideration and the views of this body.”

May 24, 2018 Nonprofit organization American Oversight files a Freedom of Information Act suit against the Department of the Interior asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force Interior to turn over documents showing communications leading up to its decision to expand offshore drilling leasing and to exclude Florida from that expansion. American Oversight v. U.S. Department of Interior, No. 1:18-cv-01216.

March 29, 2019 A federal judge in Alaska vacates Sec. 5 of Pres. Trump’s EO 13795, reinstating former Pres. Obama’s Jan. 27, 2015 and Dec. 20, 2016 withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic coastal areas from oil and gas leasing. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 3:17-cv-00101-SLG (D. Alaska).

April 25, 2019 Sec. Bernhardt tells the Wall Street Journal that the 5-year leasing plan for 2019-2022 is on hold due to the federal court order that vacated part of Trump’s EO 13795. He says the order “may be discombobulating to our plan” and indicated the proposal is on hold indefinitely.

May 28, 2019 Trump administration appeals to the Ninth Circuit a March 29, 2019 decision by a federal judge to reinstate Pres. Obama’s withdrawals of Arctic and Atlantic areas from oil and gas leasing. League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, No. 19-35460 (9th Cir.).

April 28, 2020 The 9th Circuit schedules for oral argument the Trump administration’s appeal of the March 29, 2019 decision by a federal district court judge that is preventing the administration from proposing a new 5-Year Leasing Plan that includes areas available for leasing that President Obama had withdrawn from availability. The oral arguments are expected to be held by video on June 5, 2020.

June 5, 2020 The 9th Circuit holds oral arguments in the appeal of the District of Alaska decision that vacated portions of President Trump’s executive order. The argument is viewable here.

Lease Sales Under Existing 2017-2022 Five Year Program

August 16, 2017 BOEM holds lease sale 249, resulting in bids for 90 tracts covering 508,096 acres in the Gulf of Mexico. This sale is the first of eleven in the Gulf of Mexico under the 2017-2022 5-year leasing program.

March 21, 2018 BOEM holds lease sale 250, resulting in bids for 148 tracts covering 815,403 acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

March 30, 2018 BOEM publishes a Call for Information and Nominations covering a proposed lease sale in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic for the 2019-2024 planning period. The call seeks comments from industry about their interest in leasing in the area as well as comments on environmental issues and any other comments from interested parties.

April 25, 2018 BOEM issues a 30-day extension for comments on the March 30, 2018 Beaufort Sea Call for Information and Nominations, extending the comment period to May 30, 2018.

July 12, 2018 BOEM announces an Aug. 15, 2018 lease sale for 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest in U.S. history. The notice of availability of the Record of Decision for the proposed Lease Sale 251 is published in the Federal Register on July 16, 2018. This is the third sale in the 2017-2022 leasing program. Ten are scheduled for the Gulf of Mexico during this period.

July 16, 2018 The Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity file suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging BOEM’s lease sale of 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, alleging it relied on arbitrary environmental analyses in violation of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. Gulf Restoration Network, et al. v. Zinke, No. 1:18-cv-01674, filed July 16, 2018 (D.D.C.).

August 15, 2018 BOEM holds lease sale 251, offering 78 million acres for bidding in the Gulf of Mexico. The lease sale results in bids for 144 tracts covering 801,288 acres.

Nov., 16 2018 BOEM announced it has begun the process of developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed 2019 Beaufort Sea Lease Sale in the Beaufort Sea Planning Area.  Public comments are due by December 17, 2018.

Dec. 14, 2018 BOEM extends the comment period on the scope of its environmental review of a 2019 lease sale in the Beaufort Sea until Jan. 4, 2019 and reschedules scoping meetings due to earthquakes in Alaska. The agency seeks comments on “the scope of the 2019 Beaufort Sea Lease Sale EIS, significant issues, reasonable alternatives, potential mitigation measures, and the foreseeable types of oil and gas activities in the proposed lease sale area.” The rescheduled scoping meetings are now scheduled for December 17-19 in three Alaskan communities.

March 13, 2019 Environmental groups challenge lease sale 252 set for March 20, 2019, which will offer areas of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas development, arguing the decision to offer these areas for sale violated the National Environmental Policy Act. – Healthy Gulf v. Bernhardt, Case No. 1:19-cv-00707 (D.D.C.).

March 20, 2019 BOEM holds lease sale 252, receiving bids on 227 tracts covering 1,261,133 acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

Aug. 7, 2019 Environmental groups file a supplemental complaint in a March 13, 2019 lawsuit originally challenging lease sale 252 for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico. The supplemental complaint asks the court to add announced lease sale 253, scheduled for Aug. 21, to the original challenge. The supplemental complaint clarifies that both sales are related because they rely on the same underlying environmental reviews. – Healthy Gulf v. Bernhardt, Case No. 1:19-cv-00707 (D.D.C.).

Aug. 21, 2019 BOEM holds lease sale 253, resulting in bids for 151 tracts in the Gulf of Mexico covering 835,000 acres.