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Shutdown delays release of Trump's offshore oil, gas plan: sources

Washington — The ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government has indefinitely delayed the Trump administration's release of a proposed plan for offshore oil and natural gas leasing sales from 2019 through 2024, industry sources familiar with the plans said Wednesday.

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The plan, which was expected to call for sales in US Atlantic, Arctic and Gulf of Mexico waters, was initially proposed in draft form by the Interior Department nearly a year ago. It initially included 47 proposed lease sales in nearly all federal waters.

Sources said that the release of the formal proposed plan, expected to be unveiled in mid-January, has been pushed back. The length of the delay depends on the length of the shutdown, which entered its 12th day on Wednesday. Nine federal departments, including Interior, are affected by the shutdown.

Sources said the announcement of the plan could be further complicated by the resignation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who officially left the position Wednesday. David Bernhardt, a deputy secretary at Interior, will be acting secretary. President Donald Trump has yet to name Zinke's replacement.

An offshore oil and gas lease sale planned for March, which is scheduled to offer 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, is unlikely to be affected by the shutdown, sources said.

That March sale is part of the 2017-2022 offshore leasing plan, finalized during the Obama administration. That plan includes 11 lease sales, including 10 in the Gulf and one in Cook Inlet offshore Alaska.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency within Interior developing the offshore plan, has 84 of its 558 employees available during the shutdown to assist with permitting operations, administrative services or emergency response, according to a contingency plan posted on Interior's website. Of these 84 employees, 76 will be available in an "on-call basis" to help with permitting, the agency said.

BOEM "will not process or review new exploration and development plans, but will process and review certain revised plans if it is related to the ongoing permitting work performed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement," the plan said.

Roughly half of BSEE's 804 employees remain on the job during the shutdown to oversee offshore permitting and safety, with their salaries paid through "non-lapsing funds," Interior said in its plan.

"Should an extended shutdown occur, exhausting current funding sources, all of the exempt personnel would be designated as excepted as they are essential for life and safety," Interior said.

Sources said that an Interior rule to revise offshore safety rules developed during the Obama administration in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 is unlikely to be impacted by the shutdown since it is already under review at the White House. That rule, known formally as Revisions to the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule, was sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget on December 13. OMB is not directly affected by the partial shutdown, which began on December 21.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Annie Siebert, newsdesk@spglobal.com