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A letter emailed by Randall Luthi to the Field & Stream editorial staff:

I read Bob Marshall’s July 29 blog, “Conservation Update: Some in House Want Bristol Bay, West Coast Opened to Drilling.” I believe some additional information would be helpful to Field and Stream readers.

First, Mr. Marshall apparently misconstrued the subject of the E&E TV interview he references. The overall subject of the interview was a bill that was being debated by the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 6082, which would allow more oil and natural gas leasing off the U.S coasts through 2017. An offshore oil and gas lease is similar to a fishing license. It provides an opportunity for a company to explore in a specified geographical area for oil and natural gas. Leases are issued through a bidding process in which companies bid for the right to obtain a lease. The revenue generated from the lease sales provide substantial income to the U.S. Treasury and, where Congress has provided, a source of revenue to the coastal states as well. The offshore industry is generally the second largest source of revenue to the U.S. Government. Issuance of the lease does not guarantee that oil and/or natural gas will be produced, but only the ability to look. Companies must still obtain permits for seismic and geological, drilling and production activities. All laws concerning environmental protection and coordination with various interest groups still apply.

Currently, only 15% of the outer continental shelf (OCS) is available for leasing and exploration – not 75% as Mr. Marshall claims in his blog. The 2012-2017 five year plan proposed by the Administration does not open new areas, leaving approximately 85% of the OCS off limits to any kind of oil and natural gas exploration. These are the same areas that have been looked at for the last 30 or so years. Currently, only about 3% of the OCS is actually leased. Should H.R. 6082 become law, other areas outside the Gulf of Mexico could be available for leasing.

The 75% figure cited by Mr. Marshall is based upon what the Federal Government claims as the amount of known recoverable oil and natural gas resources. The argument being that 75% of the known recoverable resources would be available for leasing through 2017 under the proposed five year plan. However, that figure is based upon decades-old seismic and geological studies. We need new studies and exploration in the 85% of the OCS that has been closed for more than a generation to get an accurate view of what resources might be there. Right now, we just do not know. The Gulf of Mexico has yielded six times the oil than was estimated to lie in the region using 1980s era technology. So, if history is an indicator, the more we look, the more we find.

During the E&E TV interview, I was also asked about the Vitter bill in the Senate. The Vitter bill deals with moving the oil and natural gas leasing program from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Energy. Should Congress decide to do that, it would not change the current laws in place concerning environmental protection, fishing areas or fishing protections. Mr. Marshall implies otherwise in his blog.

The offshore oil and gas industry has a long and mutually beneficial relationship with offshore fishing interests. The structures used to produce energy for America also provide additional habitat for fish and other marine life. One needs only go to the Gulf of Mexico to see that some of the most popular places to catch fish are around both active and inactive platforms and structures installed by the people of the oil and gas industry. Many who fish there are employees of the oil and natural gas industry. Some inactive structures are used to create reefs in the Rigs to Reefs program. In addition, over the years the offshore oil and gas industry has provided millions of dollars to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Monies from the fund have gone to preserve lands where sportsmen hunt and fish.

As this Nation strives to become more energy sufficient, the offshore oil and gas industry and the sportsmen and women, including the those who love to fish, including me, should continue our efforts to work together so that our current and future energy needs are met and we also have great places to fish and hunt.
–Randall Luthi
President, National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA)_

Bob Marshall responds:
Mr.Luthi is correct in pointing out I was mistaken when writing the industry has access to 75 percent of offshore waters; that should have been 75 percent of known offshore reserves.

But his claim that the nation needs to get at the rest of our ocean bottom rings hollow – because the industry still hasn’t gotten around to working the vast majority of leases they already have.

In May the [U.S. Department of Interior reported:]( eid=296238) “More than 70 percent of the tens of millions of offshore acres currently under lease are inactive, neither producing nor currently subject to approved or pending exploration or development plans. Out of nearly 36 million acres leased offshore, only about 10 million acres are active – leaving nearly 72 percent of the offshore leased area idle.”

So how can energy companies be so desperate for more leases if they haven’t even used the ones they have?

History has shown once a lease is granted and paid for it is extremely difficult for conservationists not only to stop drilling and production in sensitive areas – but to even have much effect in shaping how the production takes place.

Don’t take it from me. Here’s what Steve Belinda, who worked with BLM on energy leasing for years before moving to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, wrote in an email to me about this topic: “Once the feds make a decision to lease, it has already said drilling and development is an appropriate use of lands and, in [this] case, off-shore waters. Therefore there is a responsibility to develop and the permitting is almost a formality.

“The gov[ernment] has a responsibility to make sure the companies don’t screw up but they lack expertise, manpower, and the will to challenge the companies when there is a conflict. Industry lawyers threaten takings lawsuits and the gov[ernment] folds.”

Sportsmen and others aren’t worried about a little seismic exploration. They know once these fragile ecosystems are leases, stopping development will be almost impossible.

Also, please don’t talk to me about the wonderful relationship between fishing and oil in the Gulf. I live there.

Oil rigs don’t make most of the fish that swim around them – the wetlands in coastal Louisiana do. And the energy industry has been an important factor in the loss of 2,000 square miles of those wetlands over the past 70 years, dredging more than 10,000 miles of canals for rigs and pipelines. At the current rates of continued marsh loss – about a football field every 48 minutes according to the state – much of what now remains will be underwater by the end of the century. And when that marsh goes, many of the fish hanging out at those rigs will go with them.

Now, let’s talk about the dangers of drilling in deepwater. You have heard about the Deepwater Horizon? The 200 million gallons of crude it dumped into the Gulf? The economic and social disruption that one rig had on five states?

The oil industry likes to play down the risk. Problem is, an accident doesn’t just impact their shareholders and employees. It impacts the millions of others who have nothing to do- or gain – from it.

You talk about the need for oil? The U.S. is now a net exporter of oil. So, why are we endangering our marine resources and coastal communities for oil that is sent to other countries?

Readers shouldn’t be fooled by claims the Obama Administration plan stops offshore exploration and production. In fact, between now and 2017 it provides for 15 sales — 12 in currently open areas of the OCS, and one each in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas following “extensive reviews of potential impacts”, and one in Cook Inlet. H.B. 6082, which Mr.Luthi champions, would have 27 — and include currently protected areas.

Every sportsman’s group involved in western public lands can tell you about the damage done to fish, wildlife and recreation by those kinds of public property fire sales. That’s why we prefer careful, phased development — and none in areas that are too important to fish and wildlife.

We’re not against all energy development, just irresponsible and damaging development.

And, these properties belong to all of us, not just the oil companies and their shareholders.