Energy & Environment

Trump proposes massive expansion of offshore drilling

The Trump administration is proposing to greatly expand the areas available for offshore oil and natural gas drilling, including off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
In the first major step toward the administration’s promised expansion of offshore drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said nearly all of the nation’s outer continental shelf is being considered for drilling, including areas off the coasts of Maine, California, Florida and Alaska.
The proposal, which environmentalists immediately panned as an environmental disaster and giveaway to the fossil fuel industry, is far larger than what was envisioned in President Trump’s executive order last year seeking a new plan for the future of auctions of offshore drilling rights. That order asked Zinke to consider drilling expansions in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore assets and beginning a dialogue of when, how, where and how fast those offshore assets should be, or could be, developed,” Zinke told reporters Thursday.

{mosads}He contrasted it with former President Barack Obama’s most recent five-year plan for offshore drilling lease sales, which had no drilling around Alaska or in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.

“This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” he said. “And under President Trump, we’re going to have the strongest energy policy, and become the strongest energy superpower. And we certainly have the assets to do that.”

The plan, which would include 47 auctions for drilling rights between 2019 and 2024, is part of Trump’s agenda to boost domestic oil and natural gas production to create “energy dominance” and unlock the nation’s “great energy wealth.”
The only areas excluded from the plan are Alaska’s Bristol Bay — which former President George W. Bush protected — and existing marine sanctuaries. Interior also doesn’t allow drilling around Hawaii or U.S. territories.
Thursday’s announcement was just one of three major steps the administration must take to write a new plan for offshore drilling rights sales.
After taking public comments on the proposal, officials must revise it and put out a new proposal and then finalize it, a process that could take more than a year.
At each of those steps, Interior can remove areas from consideration for drilling, but cannot make new areas available.
Zinke repeatedly emphasized the fluid nature of the proposal to reporters.

“This is a beginning, opening up and saying ‘this is what’s available,’” he said.

Kate MacGregor, Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals, emphasized that officials “expect to have a vigorous dialogue with states and local communities, as well as the congressional delegations.”
Environmentalists slammed the proposal as a giveaway to the oil industry.
“The Trump administration’s dramatic expansion of offshore oil drilling is beyond reckless,” said Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters.
“Seaside communities, businesses, and elected officials from both parties have consistently opposed risky offshore drilling because of the grave threat it poses to their way of life, our climate, and local economies that rely on tourism and fishing,” he said.
“This radical offshore drilling free-for-all is a clear example of politics over people, ignoring widespread local and state opposition,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana.
The announcement also garnered some Republican opposition, mainly from Florida officials.
The federal government has long avoided allowing offshore drilling off the state’s coasts. A ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, to the west of Florida, is currently enshrined in law, but due to expire in 2022. Zinke’s plan would start drilling rights sales there in 2023.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would fight attempts to allow drilling near his state.
“I have already 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,” Scott said in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined in, saying in a statement that he’d ask Zinke “to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), an outspoken Trump ally, also tweeted that he is “100% opposed” to drilling off Florida’s coasts.
Historically, presidential administrations have not allowed drilling off the coasts of states whose leaders oppose it, both as a political consideration and because drilling is difficult without onshore cooperation.

Republicans, the oil industry and their allies applauded the proposal.

“This new offshore leasing plan is an important step towards harnessing our nation’s energy potential for the benefit of American energy consumers,” Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s director for upstream operations, said in a statement.

“The ability to safely and responsibly access and explore our resources in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical part of advancing the long-term energy security of the U.S.,” he said. “It will also encourage economic growth, spur manufacturing and investment, create thousands of additional U.S. jobs, and strengthen our national security.”

“The administration’s draft proposed program unlocks the vast potential of American energy and expands our ability to export oil and gas to our allies around the world,” said Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute.

“The plan announced today is a long term commitment to securing our energy future, and would help cement America’s role as an energy superpower, creating jobs and contributing to our economy.”

Interior is currently working under Obama’s most recent five-year drilling plan, which covers 2017 to 2022.

Obama had initially floated drilling off the Atlantic coast between Virginia and Georgia, as well as off Alaska’s Arctic shore. But both oceans were taken out of his final plan.

Interior will soon kick off a 60-day period where it will take public comment on the proposal.

— Updated at 2:24 p.m.
Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Marco Rubio Matt Gaetz Ryan Zinke

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