An article in Wednesday's editions inaccurately reported the extent of the acreage leased by the Interior Department for oil and gas drilling in 1981. The acreage--a record amount--is a little less than twice the size of Delaware, not four times the size of Alaska.
For the federal offshore oil and gas leasing program, 1981 was a year of records: a record number of acres leased (an area four times the size of Alaska and almost 97 percent more than in 1980) on more tracts than anytime in the program's 28-year history.
Old and new leases also produced a record $9.9 billion in revenues--but that's just the start.
This year Interior Secretary James G. Watt hopes to expand the ambitious program that the Carter administration had proposed for last year.
The record figures were heralded by Watt in a news release issued Monday, although he was responsible for accelerating the leasing scheduled for only the last half of the year. Watt has proposed changing the Carter administration plan, by pushing for more leasing acreage and cutting regulations and the number of environmental reviews.
A new five-year plan involving 42 leases on 875 million acres of undersea property is expected to begin this year, unless delayed by court actions. The original plan, offered in June, 1980, called for 36 sales, and about half the acreage. Watt increased those numbers last July.
If the sales go ahead, they will range from the Gulf of Mexico (in February) to Southern California (in April) and from the North Atlantic shores of Maine (in August) to the Norton Basin, off the coast of Alaska (in November).
"Our offshore leasing program remains one of America's best hopes for a secure and strong energy future," Watt said, noting that 1981 also saw records for most lease sales, most acreage offered, the most gas produced from leased fields, the most money collected by the federal government for drilling rights and the most royalty earnings from producing oil and gas wells.
However, only 283 million barrels of oil were produced from offshore tracts in 1981, the second lowest total in the past decade.
Sarah Chasis, an attorney with the the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the group is "concerned with the administration carrying out the leasing schedule in an environmentally sensitive way."
Chasis said the speeded leasing schedule is cutting down on the experience level of drilling rig workers; the new tracts, she added, are in "a much more hostile and rigorous environment in Alaska and the North Atlantic," and could lead to more oil spills.
But Alan D. Powers, director of the department's Outer Continental Shelf program office, said, "Still, we have a stellar record" for safety.