This paper discusses the future of U.S. offshore petroleum development in light of increasing public concern about protecting the environment. It examines the tension between development and environmental protection interests of the Federal Government. It discusses some of the policies and plans of the Congress and the Administration as they attempt to manage this tension.


The estimated value of the gas and oil resources on the restricted Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge does not include any values associated with environmental benefits or costs. The potential for each area may not be sufficient to justify the environmental risks of recovering and transporting these resources. Public concerns about environmental protection are continuing to shape Federal policy toward offshore and other frontier oil development in the United States. The surge in environmental awareness among large numbers of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s produced a variety of Federal laws and regulations that have affected the methods by which offshore areas are leased, developed, produced and regulated. During the 1980s these laws and regulations have influenced the levels of offshore activity in certain regions and have forced operators to get numerous approvals for exploration, development and production plans. Vigorous debates about the need for and costs of offshore development have been going on between environmental interests and the industry throughout this period. In the 1990s, some believe that the environmental age has matured and the industry will be taking a more active approach toward environmental protection when planning future development. Environmental values, however, will continue to be difficult to quantify and to compare to the value of petroleum resources especially as new prospects are pursued in ever more remote (and thus undeveloped or pristine regions) such as the arctic and deep oceans.

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