On Thursday, the Trump Administration moved to open up vast expanses of protected coastline for offshore drilling. The plan opens up 90 percent of U.S. offshore reserves to private companies: from 2019 to 2024, forty-seven new leases are planned for the waters off Alaska, California, the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico.
Trump’s approach-- what his National Security Strategy calls “energy dominance”-- opens up areas of continental shelf, estimated to hold 86 billion barrels of oil, that have been protected for decades under a presidential directive dating back to President George H. W. Bush. Already, a bipartisan group of coastal governors, including Republicans Rick Scott of Florida and Larry Hogan of Maryland, have blasted the plan.
Governor Scott’s Statement on Trump Administration’s Plan on Offshore Oil Drilling: pic.twitter.com/iQqNU9afsQ— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) January 4, 2018
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, sent to face the press on Thursday, emphasized that the plan was a “draft” program. "Nothing is final yet, and our department is continuing to engage the American people to get to our final product," he said.
Environmental groups argue that opening up land from Santa Barbara to Cape Cod will likely reverse a decades-long decline in the number of active offshore drilling projects. The industry hit rock bottom in April 2010, when President Obama issued a six-month ban on all offshore exploration after a British Petroleum oil rig exploded, killing eleven and dumping five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As he left office in 2016, Obama issued a last-minute moratorium for most of the U.S. coastline, including agreement with Ottawa on an Arctic drilling ban.
The U.S. Oil Fund, one of the world’s largest commodity indices, is up 2.5% since the beginning of the year.
“Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “Rather than listen to the people they’re supposed to work for, Trump and Zinke are listening to the industry that’s bankrolled their campaigns and filled the administration.”
Brune and leaders of more than 60 environmental groups have signed a statement denouncing the expansion of offshore drilling. “These ocean waters are not President Trump’s personal playground,” it said. “The public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies.”
For those companies, Trump’s proposal is simply a promise made and promise kept.
In its 2017 forecast, World Oil, a leading industry magazine, observed that “the new Trump administration has… encouraged expectations that many of the recent federal regulatory and permitting challenges will be reconsidered and/or altered extensively.”
With Trump in office, “now, the industry is preparing to get back to work.”
-- with files from Ed Ngai