On January 4, 2018, US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program (National OCS) for 2019–2024. The new plan proposes to make over 90 percent of total OCS acreage available for future exploration and development and targets the largest number of lease sales in US history. The plan is in great contrast to the current program, which puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) includes 47 potential lease sales—19 off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), and 9 in the Atlantic—during the five-year plan. The DPP is available on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) website for viewing (https://www.boem.gov/).
The announcement has been touted as a great step toward solidifying the US as a leader in oil and gas production for years to come. However, it is prudent to note that given the recent price levels and how prolific, vast and economic shale resources have proven to be, the focus on the offshore will be limited in the near term. Offshore resources require a long lead time to explore and develop. Given that most of these waters previously remained unexplored and parts have not been developed at all, there will be a long lag time between when leases are awarded and when they lead to production. Shale resources, on the other hand, are much more dynamic and can react to pricing for the purposes of activity given market conditions in the near term. Whereas offshore projects can take more than two years to develop, a shale well can yield first production in as quickly as three months.
Regardless, the leasing program will allow for new exploration and development activity in the OCS and may impact production potential in the longer term. The activity will be led by majors, who have a marked advantage in longer-term projects given the capital requirements. Majors are the leaders in OCS production, and independents remain the leaders in shale (Figure 2). Keeping this in mind, the possible winners might be the majors, but it will all depend on how successful their exploration efforts turn out.