Lawmakers push Interior to expand offshore drilling

Lawmakers push Interior to expand offshore drilling

More than 100 lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to consider allowing oil and natural gas drilling in more areas off the coast of the United States.

In a Wednesday letter to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeThe case for transferring federal lands back to Native Americans International hunting council disbands amid litigation Europe deepens energy dependence on Russia MORE, the members said officials should consider a more expansive drilling programs when it rewrites a five-year leasing outline, a key goal for Zinke and President Trump.

"Just as today's energy security is the result of production set in motion by decisions made years ago, the decisions on [Outer Continental Shelf] leasing and development facing the department today will lay the groundwork for our energy and national security for decades,” said the letter, led by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Overnight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House Natural Resources gives Grijalva power to subpoena Interior MORE (R-Utah) and signed by 118 members.

“There is demonstrated interest in the leasing and development of previously excluded areas and we must consider these areas for development to optimize our nation’s resource potential.”

The letter comes as the Interior Department takes public comments on a new leasing plan, including the potential for drilling in all areas currently set aside for oil and gas production in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

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Under a drilling plan finalized during the Obama administration, only 6 percent of Outer Continental Shelf acreage is available for leasing between 2017 and 2022.

The oil sector favors a larger leasing program, but environmentalists have resisted the Trump administration’s efforts to expand drilling.

Another group of 69 lawmakers, led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), told Interior to block drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans as part of the review.

“The risks are simply too high, and the consequences too severe,” they wrote in a letter. “It is time to preserve and protect this vital part of America’s national heritage for future generations.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center said expanded drilling in the Atlantic Ocean would threaten offshore ecosystems and coastal economies and raise the potential for pollution problems like oil spills.

“Opening the Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling poses a direct threat to the fragile and unique ecosystems of the southeast coast and to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on our clean coastal resources,” the law center, representing dozens of environmental groups, wrote in a public comment on the drilling plan.

—Updated at 3:57 p.m.