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Answering Aunt Edna

What does ‘offshore’ actually mean?

The topic of offshore exploration and production (E&P) has been in the news a lot lately and Aunt Edna wants to know details.

Key Points

  • The term “offshore” refers to the outer-continental shelf (OCS) – an underwater plain in federally regulated waters. This federal land typically begins 3 miles from the coastline, but in Texas and Gulf Coast Florida, it begins approximately 10 miles offshore.
  • The OCS includes 1.7 billion acres of submerged lands, subsoil and seabed, but about 85% of it is currently off limits for E&P.
  • Chevron believes increased access to offshore resources is vital to energy security and supply stability.
  • The Department of Interior’s new 2024 5-Year Outer-Continental Shelf (OCS) Leasing Program, once approved, is simply an opportunity for the government and offshore energy industry to begin evaluating where oil and natural gas development could take place.

What does “offshore” actually mean?

You may have heard about offshore leasing and development following the announcement of the Department of Interior’s 2019-2024 5-Year OCS Leasing Program. This plan refers to any new oil and natural gas leasing that could potentially take place in federal jurisdictional waters off the continental United States, including Alaska.

When it comes to the domestic oil and natural gas industry, “offshore” refers to E&P on the outer continental shelf – the underwater land mass that is the natural extension of the continent into the ocean.

In the United States, offshore E&P is governed by the Submerged Lands Act, which gives states authority to grant leasing rights within the boundaries of state waters, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the Department of Interior jurisdiction to issue leases in federal waters.

Federal jurisdiction generally begins three miles off the coastline, although for Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida, federal jurisdiction begins around 10 miles from shore. The federal jurisdiction extends out to about 200 nautical miles offshore around the U.S.

If greater access to the Outer Continental Shelf is approved, what happens next?

The first step is for scientists and engineers to evaluate where oil and natural gas resources might exist in rocks thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor.

There is a misconception that if offshore access is granted, drilling will immediately take place. In fact, offshore oil and natural gas development is a long-term process that is subject to multiple levels of federal and state government oversite and regulation.

Just because an offshore area may be included in a new government proposed plan, it doesn’t mean the area will ultimately be offered for leasing, leases will be issued, or that drilling will occur.

The new offshore proposed plan, once approved, simply provides an opportunity for the government and offshore energy industry to begin evaluating where oil and natural gas development could take place.

Don’t scientists have to drill to determine what resources are available?

Not necessarily. After establishing safeguards to protect the marine environment, exploration often begins with a seismic survey. Low-frequency soundwaves are sent out from ships to penetrate deep into subsurface rock.

Data is collected from these soundwaves bouncing back from the rock layers, and scientists use specialized computer software to create detailed three-dimensional maps which are analyzed for potential leasing and drilling locations.

Is offshore development safe?

Chevron is committed to safe and environmentally sound operations everywhere we work. This means constantly innovating and improving safeguards that better protect our employees and the environment while producing energy offshore.

Industry is also subject to multiple layers of regulatory oversight from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the U.S. Coast Guard and many others.

Individual states also have agencies that provide regulatory oversight for the offshore energy industry.

Chevron’s offshore experience

Chevron’s virtual offshore experience gives site visitors an inside look at an oil platform in the Gulf. Check it out!

Source: Chevron

Call to Action: Stay tuned for more information on the DOI 5-year plan. We may call on you to speak up in support of increased access to offshore resources.


This communication is financed by Chevron U.S.A. Inc.

CAN membership and activities are strictly voluntary. CAN members, including Chevron employees, are not required to participate in CAN’s advocacy efforts.


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