The executive order President Donald Trump signed Friday could ease offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and possibly lead to oil exploration in new marine sanctuaries, including some off the California and Florida coasts.
“We are opening it up,” said Trump, referring to the administration’s plan to allow oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, which President Barack Obama had declared off limits.
Trump’s order, known as the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, directs the Interior Department to review the current five-year oil exploration plan on the Outer Continental Shelf as well as the permitting process for development of new oil leases.
The order also directs Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross not to designate any new marine sanctuaries or expand existing ones and to review all marine monuments and sanctuaries that Obama designated under the Antiquities Act.
Energy interests cheered the announcement – which could open millions of acres of federal waters to oil and gas exploration. Environmentalists and many coastal lawmakers called it a reckless move that could lead more disasters, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“When Deepwater Horizon exploded, Floridians saw firsthand the catastrophic consequences of offshore drilling,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement. “Spills don’t just devastate ecosystems – local economies that depend on the health of our environment and clean water also feel extreme pain.”
We are opening it up.
President Trump, referring to the administration’s plan to allow oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean
In making the announcement, Trump administration officials said Friday’s order would not automatically lead to oil leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Such a move would have surely angered Republican allies in Florida and other Gulf states.
However, by reviewing the current five-year plan for the Outer Continental Shelf, the Interior Department could open up waters currently closed, including those off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and a wide swath from New Jersey to the Canadian border.
Scores of coastal parks nationwide could be affected, either by oil rigs on the horizon or spills following an accident, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, a nongovernmental organization that promotes the parks.
“Today’s executive order jeopardizes the long-term future of these parks and marine sanctuaries, opening the door to potential oil spills that could do irrevocable damage,” said Mark Wenzler, the group’s senior vice president.
Trump campaigned on making the United States more energy self-sufficient. Since taking office, he has filled his administration with oil and gas supporters and former industry officials. He’s also issued a series of executive orders easing energy extraction on federal lands, including National Park Service properties.
While Obama was in office, oil and gas development boomed in the United States, with crude oil production rising from 5 million to 9 million barrels daily from 2008 to 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration. But Obama also took measures to limit production and potential environmental damage on some federal lands and offshore waters. In late December, he used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to bar energy exploration off part of the Atlantic coast and in large swaths of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in Alaska.
In comments to reporters Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the administration recognized that residents of some states, including California, did not want offshore oil drilling. Nonetheless, Trump’s order Friday requires the Interior Department to review the oil and gas potential of marine sanctuaries Obama created and expanded.
This review could affect the expansion of the 4,300-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron in Michigan. It could also include the Greater Farallones and Cordell Banks sanctuaries northwest of San Francisco, both of which Obama expanded.
In preparation for Trump’s moves, a California state lawmaker, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, plans to introduce legislation to block construction of pipelines in state waters needed for expansion of oil and gas development.
“Coastal communities made it clear they don’t want offshore drilling,” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “The president’s executive order ignores those concerns.”
Energy interests applauded Trump’s order, noting that energy development has been the focus of one-fifth of Trump’s executive orders reversing Obama-era policies.
“America is fortunate to have vast offshore energy resources which could fuel the global economy for decades,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. “Unfortunately, 94 percent of it is off limits for production, depriving us of vast opportunities.”