In a huge reveal today, the Trump administration said it plans to release the largest number of offshore oil and gas lease sales in US history. If approved, it would permit drilling in almost all US continental-shelf waters, including protected areas in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.
The move rolls back a ban on new offshore drilling off the coasts of Florida and California. It also lifts a ban on drilling put in place by the Obama administration that protected more than 100 million offshore acres along the Arctic and Eastern seaboards.
In total, this means more than a billion acres will be considered for oil and gas production. This includes areas where drilling has been blocked for decades.
The draft identified 47 areas for potential oil and gas production, which industry companies can buy leases for between 2019 and 2024.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement the proposal could increase federal revenue by $15 billion.
Only one of 26 planning areas would be off limits to oil and gas exploration. The plan does not include Alaska’s Bristol Bay, existing marine sanctuaries, or areas around Hawaii and US territories.
Today’s proposal comes after the passing of Congress’ tax bill last month that included a decision to open 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling. Not only that, but just two weeks ago the Interior Department suspended a study conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine on the safety of offshore oil and gas drilling platforms.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore leasing, promised that the environment would be protected.
However, current opposition of the proposal cite safety concerns and potential environment impacts like the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010.
New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan (D) tweeted: “Offshore drilling has caused some of the greatest man-made natural disasters of our time.”
A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups have denounced the plan, saying it would impose “severe and unacceptable harm” to America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.
“These ocean waters are not President Trump’s personal playground. They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies,” read a statement sent to IFLScience that was signed by leaders of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, and other environmental groups.
More than 140 municipalities have publicly opposed offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic, the environmental group Oceana said in a statement.
Diane Hoskins, campaign director for the group, called the plan “absolutely radical” and “is a clear example of politics over people, ignoring widespread local and state opposition.”
Supporters of the proposal, on the other hand, say it will create jobs and secure the United States as a major energy producer.
US Chamber on Global Energy Institute praised the proposal in a statement, saying it “unlocks the vast potential of American energy and expands [the] ability to export oil and gas to allies around the world.” Continuing the plan will “help cement America’s role as an energy superpower, creating jobs and contributing to [its] economy.”
It should be noted that the new plan does not immediately clear drilling, and finalizing it could take up to 18 months. Challenges are also expected from the courts and congress.
“Nothing is final,” Zinke added today at a news conference. “This is a draft program. The states, local communities and congressional delegations will all have a say” before the proposal becomes final.
The public has 60-days to comment on the proposed program, which is the first of two opportunities for public comment on the plan.
To comment on the proposal, go to the BOEM website. Comments will be accepted July 3 through August 17, 2018.