Proposal would open entire coastline, but environmentalists and coastal states strongly oppose the move
WASHINGTON – Nearly the entire U.S. coastline – from Alaska to Florida to New England – would be opened to offshore drilling under a proposal by the Trump administration, a dramatic shift from previous administrations that limited offshore oil and gas production primarily to the Gulf of Mexico.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday that up to 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf, which begins roughly three miles off the U.S. mainland, is under consideration for oil and gas lease sales beginning next year and extending through 2024. That includes almost the entire Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
“This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed,” Zinke said. “If you look at the last eight years the opportunity to generate revenue through responsible energy development took a backseat to, in many cases, special interest groups.”
The move marks a victory for the offshore oil and gas industry, largely centered in Houston, which has lobbied for years to drill in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Most of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, have a major presence in Houston, as do firms specializing in offshore drilling and services, including TechnipFMC, National Oilwell Varco, McDermott International and Transocean.
Vast stores of oil and gas are believed to lie beneath the ocean floors of the Arctic and Atlantic. And while test wells have turned up little hard proof as of yet, the areas represent potential new frontiers for an industry eager to expand its reserves.
“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,” said Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute.
President Donald Trump’s effort to advance his plan for U.S. “energy dominance” by expanding offshore drilling faces a number of challenges, particularly low oil prices that have significantly curtailed offshore exploration.
Many oil companies are focusing investments in lower-cost and higher-margin shale projects in West Texas and other onshore fields.
Crude settled Thursday at $62.01 a barrel, well below prices in 2008, when oil companies spent tens of billions of dollars competing for drilling rights in the Arctic Ocean. Earlier this year, a federal lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico drew what Trump officials conceded Thursday was less than stellar interest from oil companies.
“We do not control the price of oil,” said Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Kate MacGregor. “The price of oil is very hard to predict.”
The proposal released Thursday was only a draft, beginning a monthslong process in which Trump is expected to face strong opposition from environmentalists as well as residents and political leaders in coastal states.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, said Thursday he had already reached out to Zinke to get his state removed from the drilling plan.
When former President Barack Obama considered expanding offshore drilling into the Atlantic Ocean in 2015, protests erupted up and down the Eastern Seaboard as environmentalists clashed with pro-business politicians – including some Democrats – eager to attract the economic boost of oil and gas drilling.
Obama ultimately used his presidential authority to ban drilling in the Atlantic.
Trump’s plan would open a much more extensive stretch of coastline to drilling, unlike anything that has ever been proposed by a U.S. president, Republican or Democrat, said Neil Howard, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.
“This is an out-and-out declaration of war on America’s coasts and the people who use and depend upon them,” Howard said.
Already environmental lawyers are fighting the Trump administration in Alaska federal court, where they filed suit earlier this year to block Trump’s move to reverse Obama’s protections against drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.
At stake are some of the world’s most pristine marine environments in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, both of which are slated to be opened up for auction next year under Trump’s drilling plan.
The offshore industry, meanwhile, is still trying to clean up its image after the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which left eleven people dead and spilled over 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are continuously developing and improving safety standards, programs, new technologies and best practices to protect our workers, the environment and marine life,” said Erik Milito, upstream director at the American Petroleum Institute, the industry trade group.
Under Trump’s proposal, the Interior Department would hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic region.