President Trump will sign an executive order on Friday to reconsider several major Obama-era actions cracking down on offshore drilling.
The aim of the order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Thursday, is to consider how to best expand offshore drilling in U.S. waters.
The Trump administration is reversing former President Obama’s December decision to remove most of the Arctic Ocean from the federal drilling program.That move would have blocked drilling in the Arctic for years to come, angering the drilling industry, which has long desired to tap massive stores of oil underneath Arctic waters.
Zinke said his department will also reopen the Obama administration’s five-year drilling plan, finalized in November, that restricts lease sales for new drilling to only the Gulf of Mexico and waters off south-central Alaska.
Regulators will also reconsider government regulations on activities like seismic testing and will review decisions within the last 10 years to create offshore marine monuments and sanctuaries.
None of these actions mean new drilling in the Arctic or Atlantic is imminent. For one, reviewing the five-year plan is a lengthy process that Zinke predicted could take about two years.
Trump’s order is likely to draw lawsuits as well. The Obama administration insisted the decision to withdraw the Arctic from the drilling program could not be reversed under the law, and that contention has yet to be tested in court.
The order, once signed, will be the second action Trump has taken this week to try to expand oil and gas drilling in the United States. On Wednesday, he signed an order to reconsider 20 years of national monument designations on public lands, a proposal that could eventually open up more federal acreage to energy production.
On top of Trump’s other energy-related executive orders, this measure “puts us on track for American energy independence,” Zinke said.
Environmentalists have long fought to prevent drilling in environmentally sensitive areas off the coast of the United States, warning that the threat of a devastating oil spill outweighs the benefits of obtaining energy supplies.
The Obama administration stripped potential lease sales for the Atlantic and Arctic from its final five-year plan, a regular government drilling blueprint that takes years to put together.
His decision to remove most of the Arctic from the drilling program was aimed at blocking oil production there indefinitely. It was a step greens urged him to take throughout his presidency and one he issued one month before he left office.
The drilling industry was incensed by the decision. Even though there is no drilling there now — it is too expensive to extract oil in the Arctic, and on-shore oil supplies are so plentiful that suppliers haven’t looked to expand their offshore portfolio — drillers still wanted the opportunity to tap it in the future.
"We are pleased to see this administration prioritizing responsible U.S. energy development and recognizing the benefits it will bring to American consumers and businesses,” American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said in a statement.
“Developing our abundant offshore energy resources is a critical part of a robust, forward-looking energy policy that will secure our nation’s energy future and strengthen the U.S. energy renaissance," he added.
Environmentalists and Democrats in Congress have begun lambasting Trump’s order before it even comes out.
Twenty-seven senators sent a letter to Zinke on Thursday asking him not to revise the five-year drilling plan, saying Obama’s plan would “protect key industries for our states, such as fishing and tourism, our environment and our climate.”
Green groups pledged vigorous opposition as well.
“This latest executive order is yet another indication that the Trump administration is committed to doubling down on dirty and dangerous oil and gas development, instead of moving America towards clean energy alternatives like offshore wind,” Nancy Pyne, the climate and energy campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement, noting local opposition to drilling.
Zinke said he will listen to local opinions on drilling before making any decisions on a new plan.
“As a secretary of Interior, I want to know what our inventory is,” he said.
“It also involves public hearings and the opportunity for the public to vocalize their support or dissent. Not everywhere likes offshore drilling. … That’s part of the process, is to look at that.”