From Land Grab to Ocean Grab: Oceans Now in Peril from Offshore Drilling
The oil-and-gas-hungry Trump administration is yet again attempting to hand over public areas to the fossil fuel industry. This time, it’s our oceans that are in peril.
In April, President Trump kicked off his assault by issuing an executive order undoing a permanent drilling ban in the vast majority of the Arctic Ocean and important parts of the Atlantic. On behalf of a coalition of conservation and Alaska Native groups, we and our co-counsel NRDC are in court challenging this unlawful rollback.
The Department of the Interior took another step earlier this month by initiating a “request for information” process, seeking public comments about the impacts of offshore drilling and development. Ultimately, the department intends to develop a new five-year plan for offshore drilling.
The Interior Department hopes to auction offshore areas for oil and gas development between 2019 and 2024. For now, information about all offshore areas, including the Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet and federal offshore waters along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, is being considered.
That is, the Trump administration wants to completely scrap rigorous protections the Obama administration enacted just this January to protect our oceans from offshore drilling from 2017 through 2022.
Tremendous public pressure helped to ensure these protections. Thirteen public meetings were held across the country and over 3.4 million people engaged in the nearly three-year public review process. Strong public opposition and careful review of the risks associated with offshore drilling led the Obama administration to exclude the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from leasing in the final plan.
The Trump administration is dismissing this public opposition and ignoring these facts:
- 1.4 million people have submitted formal comments and over 2 million people sent petitions to the White House to ask that the federal government protect our coasts and climate by keeping our public ocean waters off-limits to oil and gas development.
- A national movement helped stop Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
- 126 municipalities, over 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have expressed opposition to oil and gas leasing or exploration along the Atlantic Coast.
- The Gulf of Mexico has been treated for decades as an energy sacrifice zone, with over 10,000 spills recorded this decade and some 27,000 leaky, abandoned wells.
- More fossil fuels from public lands and waters have already been leased to fossil fuel companies than can be extracted and burned if we are to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. Each new federal lease just locks in fossil fuel dependence and climate disruption for years to come.
An Unnecessary and Dangerous Strategy
This “request for information” is a key part of the Trump administration’s “America First Offshore Energy Strategy,” which encourages energy exploration and production in public offshore waters. It could also dampen marine sanctuary designation and expansion, first requiring a Department of the Interior review “of any energy or mineral resource potential within the designated area.”
Redoing the current five-year offshore drilling program is a waste of time and resources and reveals how the Trump administration only represents the oil and gas industry. Our oceans and climate are in no less need of protection than before the current 2017-2022 plan was finalized.
Voice Your Opposition
We need to once again voice our complaints and concerns to the administration and Congress. Since the offshore energy executive order, we’ve already made a difference. Numerous bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to protect our oceans from seismic exploration and oil and gas drilling, and to keep the current 2017-2022 offshore drilling program as it is.
Our oceans connect us, and we all have a stake in ensuring their vitality for present and future generations. Please submit your comment to the Department of the Interior about the critical importance of protecting our oceans from oil and gas development before the August 17th deadline. Let’s flood the Trump administration with comments.