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Trump administration to bring back offshore drilling staff during shutdown
The Trump administration is bringing dozens of federal employees back to work to carry out the administration's plan to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling.
The Interior Department's Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) updated its plan for the ongoing partial federal government shutdown last week to state that 40 workers would be brought in for offshore drilling, in addition to the 84 others who have already been working during the shutdown.
The employees are working in four areas: geological testing for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean; the administration's proposal last year to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans; environment review for that proposal and preparations for two upcoming offshore drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.
Other BOEM responsibilities, like opening offshore areas for wind energy development, remain closed.
Each of the areas is being financed through "carryover funds," BOEM said.
Most federal employees who are being asked to work during the shutdown are there for a variety of very limited reasons, including "protection for life and property," since federal law severely restricts who can work.
But BOEM made clear that the workers newly exempted from the shutdown are there to carry out President Trump's agenda.
"In order to comply with the Administration's America First energy strategy to develop a new OCS Oil and Gas leasing program, work must continue toward issuing the Proposed Program per the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act requirements," BOEM said of bringing back workers for the plan to expand drilling.
As for the Gulf of Mexico sales, "Failure to hold these sales would have a negative impact to the Treasury and negatively impact investment in the U.S. Offshore Gulf of Mexico," BOEM said.
BOEM and Interior did not respond to requests for comment.
Interior has been under fire by Democrats and environmentalists for bringing on workers in many areas related to fossil fuel extraction during the shutdown, while parks, wildlife refuges and other Interior responsibilities suffer.
Interior has been processing requests for permits to drill for oil and gas on federal land and working through the process to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska to drilling, among other responsibilities.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has questioned whether Interior's actions follow the law.
The employees coming back to work, like others in the shutdown, will not be paid until the affected agencies reopen.