Trump Admin officially proposes opening vast areas of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling

  • The Trump Administration has unveiled its plan to open nearly all of the United States’ coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.
  • U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024 yesterday, which includes a proposal to open up more than 90 percent of the country’s continental shelf waters to future exploitation by oil and gas companies. The draft five-year plan also proposes the largest number of offshore oil and gas lease sales in U.S. history.
  • Democrat and Republican elected officials, environmentalists, fisheries management agencies, coastal communities, business owners, and fishing families have all come out against the plan.

The Trump Administration has unveiled its plan to open nearly all of the United States’ coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024 yesterday, which includes a proposal to open up more than 90 percent of the country’s continental shelf waters to future exploitation by oil and gas companies. The draft five-year plan also proposes the largest number of offshore oil and gas lease sales in U.S. history.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Secretary Zinke. “Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Obama Administration blocked drilling on about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, but, in April 2017, Trump issued an executive order that called for a review of the 2017-2022 Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program finalized under Obama in favor of implementing Trump’s so-called “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The draft five-year plan that has just been released by the Trump Administration’s Interior Department would open up 25 of 26 outer continental shelf regions to drilling. The North Aleutian Basin, which lies off the northern shore of the Alaska Peninsula and extends into the Bering Sea, was the only region exempted from drilling in the new plan, the New York Times reports.

The Interior Department proposes to hold 47 lease sales in those 25 regions — including 19 off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic Region, and seven in the Pacific Region. “This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National [Outer Continental Shelf] Program’s 5-year lease schedule,” the Interior Department said in a statement.

Earlier moves by the Trump Administration to open the U.S. Atlantic coast to drillinghave already drawn fierce opposition. An alliance of more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families from Florida to Maine was joined by fishery management councils for the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the South Atlantic regions in speaking out against oil exploration and development in the Atlantic. One of their chief concerns is the incredibly disruptive exploration technique known as seismic airgun blasting, which would need to be used to determine how much oil is actually underneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast given that oil drilling has been banned there for decades.

Drilling in the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast has been banned since a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Local officials there also vowed to fight the Trump Administration’s move to open their coastal waters to the oil and gas industry: “For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” California Governor Jerry Brown, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a joint statement.

All three of those West Coast governors are Democrats, but even some Republican officials have expressed grave concerns about the proposed plan. “I have asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, said in a statement. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

Like many other Gulf Coast states, Florida’s tourism industry took a massive hit after the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The resulting oil spill is estimated to have caused more than $17 billion in environmental damage, and research has shown that Gulf ecosystems could take decades to recover.

Environmentalists were quick to denounce the plan as well. The Associated Press reports that a coalition of more than 60 environmental groups issued a joint statement saying that opening U.S. waters to oil and gas exploration threatens marine life and coastal communities with “severe and unacceptable harm.”

The coalition, which includes the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, among others, argues that “These ocean waters are not President Trump’s personal playground. They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies.”

The Interior Department noted that it will take at least a year before any lease sales are finalized. Following the release of the draft plan yesterday, there will be a 60-day public comment period. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has scheduled 23 public meetings to gather in-person comments and will have to conduct a full environmental assessment.

The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is a species of utmost concern should seismic airgun blasting be allowed off the Atlantic coast. Photo Credit: Moira Brown and New England Aquarium.

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