In March 2010, the Obama administration was looking into the possibility of a proposed oil and gas lease sale off the U.S. East Coast. It was not a terribly popular idea with many Democrats on Capitol Hill, but the administration pushed forward anyhow.

The most likely areas for the proposed lease sale were off the Florida coast or one of the Carolinas or even Virginia. About five weeks later, an explosion of the Macondo well in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, known as the Deepwater Horizon (which was the name of the rig on the water’s surface) or BP oil spill. Obama quickly realized that if the regulations in place couldn’t stop such an accident from occurring in the Gulf any hope the administration had of convincing other Democrats to back the East Coast plan was lost.

In December 2012, Shell sent the 360'x80', 22,000-hp anchor-handling tug Aiviq with the 266'-dia., round/conical drilling barge Kulluk under tow, east from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. Several days into the voyage, the seas in the Gulf of Alaska grew so large that a terrific strain was put on the equipment in use, snapping a shackle on the towline, leaving the barge adrift. The line was eventually reattached, but all four of the tug’s engines went down. The winter storm’s winds grew to 50 to 60 mph and seas climbed to 40' over the next few days. After many attempts to get the Kulluk under tow, the rig eventually grounded on the south side of Kodiak Island. Though Shell’s personnel had no control over the weather, many organizations that are against drilling for oil and gas in Alaska used the incident to argue that the oil giant was not prepared for what it would face under Arctic conditions.

In January 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the Interior Department’s Draft Proposed Program, a multiyear process to develop a final offshore leasing program for 2017-2022. The program includes 14 potential lease sales in eight planning areas — 10 in the Gulf, three offshore Alaska, and one somewhere along the mid-Atlantic to the South Atlantic coast.

This means another opportunity for oil companies off the U.S. East Coast and Alaska. For me, it means more opportunity to make the U.S. energy independent. Let’s hope we don’t blow it this time.  

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.