- The Trump Administration on Thursday proposed opening up 98% of US waters for oil exploration.
- A majority of coastal governors oppose the idea, but a few in the Gulf Coast and Alaska are interested in more offshore drilling.
- The 5-year leasing program, set for 2019-2024, is getting strong support from gas companies and loud opposition from environmentalists.
Step up to the auction block, oil companies.
In an announcement on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a new proposal to lease huge new sections of US waters to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling – a move unlike anything seen in decades.
The new plan would make “more than 98%” of the waters off the United States available for oil and gas leasing over the next five years, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wrote in a report released Thursday.
There are a few notable exceptions. That other 2% of US waters includes an area of the Aleutian basin next to Alaska, as well as 12 coastal “marine sanctuaries” (those dot the shoreline in places like Monterey Bay in California and Stellwagen Bank at the mouth of the Massachusetts Bay). There’s also a temporary hold on a section of the Gulf of Mexico that Congress has put a moratorium on until 2022.
But many other protected areas of water could be up for grabs. The National Parks Conservation association said the shores bordering 88 other protected areas, like the waters off Acadia National Park and along the Santa Monica mountains could all be sold off. The last offshore oil sales on either coast of the continental US occurred in the 1980s, according to Reuters.
President Donald Trump already re-wrote some of the rules that former President Barack Obama put in place to protect waters in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans with his “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” in April 2017.
Oil and gas industry leaders voiced their approval for that move, as well as this new plan.
“I think the default should be that all of our offshore areas should be available,” Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, told The New York Times.
The Governors of Alaska and Alabama, along with the Department of Natural Resources in Louisiana and Georgia support the idea too, as does the lieutenant governor in North Carolina.
But Sierra Club director Michael Brune doesn’t see it that way.
“Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters,” he said in a statement.
Leaders of many coastal states up and down the East and West coasts, including California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and New York are against it. New York officials are also concerned that the plan might interfere with their intentions to build more offshore wind farms. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott quickly voiced his opposition.
“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 told Reuters.
In addition to lawmakers and environmentalists, the Pentagon is also worried about the move, according to The Washington Post.
But the Department of Interior says nothing is set in stone yet – typically, these sales take about two years to finalise. The BOEM wrote in its report that “each potential lease sale scheduled in the 2019-2024 Program will be subject to separate established pre-lease decision processes, including environmental review and analysis.”