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Interior tasks federal employees with oil and gas lease work during shutdown

The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that oversees development of offshore energy and mineral resources on the U.S. outer continental shelf, amended its government shutdown contingency plan to allocate more workers to its federal oil and gas leasing program.

The move comes after the BOEM paused its review of an 800-MW wind farm offshore Massachusetts due to the lapse in appropriations.

The BOEM, which has 558 full-time employees, said in December 2018 that it would rely on 84 employees to conduct administrative services, provide emergency response, and support Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, permitting operations.

A contingency plan updated Jan. 8 raised the number of available employees to 124.

By carrying over funding from the prior fiscal year, the BOEM said it would have 40 federal workers available on an on-call basis to prepare National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program decision documents, including associated environmental impact statements, as well as to complete environmental assessments related to geophysical and geological permits in the Atlantic.

In November 2018, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued a final authorization to five companies that intend to conduct geophysical surveys to search for oil and gas deposits beneath Atlantic Ocean waters off the East Coast.

With the lapse in funding extending past Jan. 15, the BOEM said it would call on additional personnel to publish a proposed notice for Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 253 and a final notice of sale and record of decision for Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 252, scheduled to take place in March.