Drilling the Coast: Trump’s Offshore Drilling Plan

By: Rachael Goldberg

On April 20th, 2010, the world witnessed the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Eight years after this devastating disaster, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), under the U.S. Department of the Interior, is in the midst of developing a new five year Oil and Gas Leasing Program.  Trump’s new plan hopes to open up most of the US coast to oil and gas drilling and would replace the 2017-2022 plan created under the Obama Administration, which removed the Atlantic, but still included leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. This plan threatens coastal communities, fisheries, wildlife, and the climate for the benefit of (surprise surprise) Big Oil.  The first of three Oil and Gas Leasing Program drafts was released on January 4th, 2018. The release was followed by a 60-day comment period that ended on March 9th, 2018.  The next comment period will be later in the year before the final draft is released.

Map of proposed drilling areas (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)
Map of the proposed drilling tracts under the first draft of the Oil and Gas leasing program (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

Governors in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida have come out against opening the coast for drilling.  Only Maine’s Governor Lepage has explicitly expressed support for Trump’s idea. The only state to be exempted by Secretary Zinke (so far) is Florida due to conservative Governor Rick Scott’s ties to the federal government. This announcement prompted new voices of opposition across the United States to ask Zinke, why Flordia’s beaches were more worthy of protection to than other states.  There is so little support for this proposal. Environmentalists, recreationalists, and people in the tourist and fishing industry are all opposed to drilling the coast as the impacts of a spill would be a social, environmental, and economic catastrophe, but this hasn’t stopped infrastructure projects in the past.  In fact, in 2014 when the Department of Interior was writing the environmental impact statement for drilling in the Arctic, they found that there was a 75 percent chance of an oil spill and still continued to push forward the plan. If the oil spill happened, the use of oil water separators technology may be of great help.

Timeline of Oil and Gas Leasing Program. We have just pasted the first 60-day comment period. (BOEM)
Timeline of Oil and Gas Leasing Program. We have just pasted the first 60-day comment period. (BOEM)

Trump and Zinke’s promise that offshore drilling would bring economic prosperity and jobs to the country is grossly overstated and absurd. According to a report released by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)  companies are rarely competing for leases (76% of offshore tracts only have one bid) and in the Gulf of Mexico the average price paid per acre has decreased by $9,068 to $391, a decline by 95.7% since 1983. Offshore drilling is an environmental catastrophe that puts money in the pockets of oil industry.  The risks of spills and the implications that drilling has on the climate, fisheries and other ocean dependent jobs should have us calling for a moratorium on drilling instead of pretending that this will deliver any kind of benefits to people outside of the oil and gas industry.

There is no doubt that there will be a formidable fight in the coming months as the plan to develop offshore drilling on the coast continues to move forward. If we want to stay below 1.5˚C or even 2˚C the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped.  This is not the time to be installing new fossil fuel infrastructure, this is the time to be making the rapid and just transition away from extractive industries to renewable energies to ensure a livable world.

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