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Fossil Fuels

Trump Wants to Open Nearly All US Offshore Waters to Drilling

The Trump administration unveiled an unprecedented blueprint for expanding oil and gas drilling in fragile waters.

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson

Skimming oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Image: NOAA

The Trump administration intends to open nearly all offshore waters to oil and gas drilling. A proposal unveiled by the Interior Department today cites leases in Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic waters—spanning 90 percent of the US outer continental shelf.

The decision is already an unpopular one, and has been condemned by environmental groups that fear unfettered drilling will also harm human communities.

“Today’s announcement by the Trump administration willfully ignores coastal governors, communities, businesses, and elected leaders up and down the coast who’ve made it clear they don’t want drilling off their shores,” Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

Both Republicans and Democrats have opposed the draft plan to increase offshore drilling. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) requested his state be removed from the blueprint. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) have each expressed concerns about drilling near their local waters.

In August, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) wrote the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages offshore leasing, to criticize the proposal. He accused the White House of defunding “the very agencies that would be charged with protecting Virginia’s coastal environment in the event that exploration went forward.”

The draft opens Arctic and Atlantic waters protected by President Obama’s leasing moratoriums. Currently, 94 percent of the US outer continental shelf is off-limits to drilling.
Trump’s proposal would also eliminate a 50-mile buffer between coastlines and drilling activity.

Today’s decision builds on Trump’s pro-fossil fuel, anti-environment agenda. The Interior Department announced this month that it will no longer solicit studies on offshore drilling safety, for instance. And in October 2017, the White House proposed opening 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, amounting to the largest drilling lease offering in US history.

“Trump’s trying to turn our oceans into oil fields. His reckless plan would expose more wildlife and coastal communities to devastating oil spills,” Kristen Monsell, a legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Trump campaigned on increasing domestic oil, coal, and gas production. But Democratic lawmakers have questioned the cost of re-asserting America’s energy dominance.

“This will do nothing to put us on a sustainable energy path or decrease prices for Americans. Trump’s plan means more oil drilled here and then sold overseas. Oil companies get the profits while towns from Washington to California and Maine to Florida bear the enormous costs we know are coming,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

The draft isn’t finalized, and won’t “be done overnight,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the New York Times. Several coastal states, environmental groups, and industries, such as tourism, are expected to protest the blueprint.