On Thursday, the Trump administration moved to open most of the country’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, in order to bolster energy production, according to a Reuters report by Valerie Volcovici.
The proposal is likely to set off protests from environmentalists, and represents a dramatic shift from Obama-era policy. That administration ramped up regulation of the industry following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019 to 2024 would open up 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to drilling. 94 percent of the shelf was protected by the Obama administration’s plan, and many of the coastal areas have been off-limits for decades.
The plan would include areas on all coastlines, including the Alaskan coast, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic. The most recent oil leases on the east and west coasts were open in the 1980s. The first lease sales would occur off of Alaska’s northern coast, ahead of further leases in the waters off of the lower 48 states.
“We want to grow our nation’s offshore energy industry, instead of slowly surrendering it to foreign shores,” according to a statement from Zinke.
He added, speaking to a conference call with reporters:
“This is the start at looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore dominance. This is the beginning of an opening up. We will listen to all the communities of stakeholders. The states will have a voice.”
Dan Naatz, the senior vice president for the industry group Independent Petroleum Association of America, praised the decision, saying:
“Expanding access to additional offshore reserves allows the United States to better understand where production potential exists and where capital should be invested.”
Legislators from both parties, however, opposed the idea, as did environmentalists, governors, and many others.
Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor said:
“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.”
Coastal business leaders who depend on tourism are also opposing the plan. Frank Knapp, founder of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, questioned the decision, saying:
”What part of the business sector are they listening to? It’s certainly not small or coastal businesses.”
Even the Department of Defense questioned drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where they said it would interfere with military exercises.
The Obama administration considered allowing for gas and oil exploration off of the Atlantic coast, but responded to strong local opposition to the plan, not pursuing it further.