The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Unlock the OCS, Unlock Energy Potential

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted February 20, 2013

The map below makes clear that while there’s talk in Washington of an all-of-the-above approach to energy, there’s much to be done in applying that concept to our outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and natural gas reserves. Other claims notwithstanding, the number to focus on is 87 – as in the 87 percent of federal offshore acreage that’s off limits to oil and natural gas development, indicated in red. Areas open to development are colored blue.

America’s vast OCS energy potential remains largely just that, potential. Also on hold are jobs and economic growth associated with increased energy development. Key points:

  • 88.6 billion barrels of oil and 398.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are believed to be held in the OCS, according to the Bureau of Ocean Exploration and Management – though those estimates are 30 years old. There could be an even greater abundance, which state-of-the-art seismic surveying technology could determine, if Congress will allow it.
  • Nearly 465,000 new jobs could be created by developing oil and natural gas offshore, according to a 2011 study by Wood Mackenzie.
  • More than $312 billion in new revenue could be generated for government from OCS production by 2030 (Wood Mackenzie).

That’s a lot of potential being left on the shelf because of our own policy choices. Also on hold is the boost to America’s energy security that could result from developing more of our own reserves.

All of these points no doubt were on the minds of the governors of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, who wrote last week to Sally Jewell, the president’s choice to be the next Interior secretary, encouraging Jewell to support expanded OCS leasing.

As the map shows, while oil and natural gas development off the coasts of those states is off limits through at least 2017, the administration has authorized a federal review to decide whether energy companies may conduct seismic tests to see how much oil and natural gas is on the OCS there. The governors backed a new energy plan offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska that would increase OCS leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic OCS:

We applaud this proposal and sincerely hope that the Administration under your guidance can work with us and our Congressional colleagues to enact these commonsense measures. … It’s estimated that energy production from the Atlantic OCS could create more than 140,000 new jobs within the next 20 years, and we hope you will ensure that the Administration is a partner with the states on this issue.

API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“Unlocking the resources off the Atlantic Coast could create 140,000 jobs, generate much-needed revenue for the government, and fuel major investments in state and local economies. We have an opportunity to lead the world on energy, and through safe and responsible development of our own oil and natural gas resources we can continue our path as a global energy superpower.”

In the OCS we have significant supplies of oil and natural gas – which could prove to be even larger with modern, up-to-date analysis. Unfortunately, 87 percent of the OCS is unavailable for oil and natural gas development that could help create jobs, stimulate the economy and add to domestic energy production.

The first step is to get more of that 87 percent included in the federal government’s offshore plan. Including areas in this federal plan is critical to generating the investments in research and analysis that precede exploration and development – a process that can take seven to 10 years after a lease is granted. With the right policy choices our OCS energy potential can be turned into a reality that will put more Americans to work while making our country stronger and more secure.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.