Energy & Environment

Zinke sees low demand, strong opposition, for new offshore drilling

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged Friday that President Trump's plan to open large swaths of the East and West coasts to offshore oil and natural gas drilling faces significant headwinds.

Speaking to an offshore wind conference in New Jersey, Zinke said drilling companies are not that interested in new areas offshore, while there's "strong opposition" in most of the neighboring states.

The acknowledgements could be a sign that Zinke will significantly narrow his plan, released in January, for offshore drilling. Under the plan, the entire Gulf of Mexico, Pacific and Atlantic coasts and areas around Alaska would be open to drilling.

Zinke cited a major offshore drilling rights sale last month in the Gulf of Mexico to judge the industry's interest in drilling in new areas as "modest at best, or low."

"Most of the companies out there realize that you have to have infrastructure to tie your rigs together, that infrastructure's expensive, that also offshore oil and gas is a greater risk environmentally than producing offshore wind, for instance, as well as onshore oil and gas," he said Friday. "It seems like offshore oil and gas in this country is moving to Latin America, where some of the environmental regulations are not as strict."

But local opposition is also a major factor Zinke is taking into account, he said.

"There is a lot of opposition, particularly off the coast of the East Coast, the West Coast, on oil and gas," he said. "And so our plan takes into consideration the local communities, the voice of the governors."

Zinke noted that all of the governors of states on the East and West coast are opposed to drilling, except those of Maine and Georgia.

"The rest of the governors are, I would say, strongly opposed," he said. "And certainly the comments we got out of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, there's a strong opposition."

States opposed to drilling, Zinke noted, can make it difficult by blocking pipelines and other infrastructure in the waters they control, which go out 3 miles from the shore.

"If the state doesn't want it, the state has a lot of leverage," he said.

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