In mid-July, President Bush lifted the Executive Withdrawal on oil and gas leasing operations on the Outer Continental Shelf, calling on Congress to lift its ban that has been in place since 1982. He also urged Congress to enact legislation that would allow states to have a say regarding operations off their shores, and to share in the resulting revenues.

As a result, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has directed the Minerals Management Service to begin the initial steps for developing a new five-year program. The multi-year process starts with a call for information from all parties on what a new five-year program should consider. Minerals Management Service also is requesting comment to ensure that all interests and concerns are considered with regard to oil and gas leasing, exploration and development resulting from a new five-year program, and the governors of all 50 states specifically will be asked for their comments.

The current program runs from 2007 to 2012, and includes 21 lease sales in eight of the 26 Outer Continental Shelf planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Atlantic. It does not include areas under a congressional ban, with the exception of Virginia. Depending on public comment, the new program can consider any area, although any leasing in a banned area would require congressional action.

The Outer Continental Shelf currently provides 27 percent of U.S. domestic oil production and 15 percent of domestic natural gas production, most of that from the Gulf of Mexico. Estimates would indicate that the areas under a congressional ban potentially contain an additional 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in yet-to-be discovered fields.