Interior opens more Western waters to offshore drilling

Officials from both parties ask Secretary Ryan Zinke to reconsider.

 

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has made no bones about his commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Approximately two months after his inauguration, Trump signed an executive order exhorting the nation to develop its domestic energy resources, while minimizing regulatory burdens. Then, that June, Trump announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations’ Paris climate agreement, which he said threatened jobs in industries such as coal mining.

Now, details of the Interior Department’s draft five-year offshore drilling plan have lawmakers on both sides of the aisle concerned. Much of the nation’s coastline previously had been closed to drilling, but this new draft plan, released in January, opens more than 98 percent of coastal waters to leasing, including all of California’s, Oregon’s and Washington’s and most of Alaska’s. State and federal officials from both parties – such as Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Governor Democrat Jay Inslee – have asked Interior to reconsider. Concerns expressed range from worries about what oil spills would do to coastal communities, to a desire to wean their economies from fossil-fuel industries.

The proposed areas for new oil and gas leasing in the Lower 48 through 2024. Click to view larger.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The proposed areas for oil and gas leasing from 2019 through 2024 in Alaska. Click to view larger.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The continental shelf regions of Alaska and the West hold some 37 billion barrels of oil and 147 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposed drilling program replaces his predecessor Sally Jewell’s plan three years before it would have expired. A new administration has only tossed a previous administration’s offshore leasing plan prematurely once before in the past three decades, under Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

In multiple letters to Zinke, California Gov. Democract Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Democrat Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Democrat Jay Inslee have pointed to their states’ economic dependence on clean coastal waters for everything from billion-dollar shellfish and fishing industries, to tourism, recreation and “scenic and spiritual bounty.” They have urged the Trump administration to reduce the country’s carbon pollution and take a leadership role in fighting climate change. “Instead of opting to drill for new oil along our coast, we encourage the federal government to pursue energy policies that embrace clean energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” they wrote in one letter.

Adding to lawmakers’ frustration was a tweet by Zinke on Jan. 9, stating that after meeting with Florida Gov. Republican Rick Scott, he’d agreed to exempt that state’s coastal waters from offshore drilling, raising questions of due process and political influence. The Trump administration has since made conflicting statements about whether or not Florida’s offshore waters would remain protected. The attorneys general of California, Oregon and Washington also wrote to Secretary Zinke, describing concerns about potential impacts of offshore oil and gas drilling and expressing concerns about the legality of the department’s process in developing the program.

Offshore oil rigs near Santa Barbara, California.

Murkowski, Alaska Rep. Republican Don Young, and Alaska Sen. Republican Dan Sullivan sent a letter to Zinke after the now-infamous tweet, also asking him to reconsider. Though they praised the new offshore drilling plan, they concluded by asking that almost all of the waters around Alaska be closed again, allowing less leasing in only three areas, although they did not offer any reasons. President Barack Obama had closed two — the Beaufort and Chukchi seas — to oil exploration in 2016, citing their importance to Arctic wildlife and the Alaska Native communities they supported. Obama also made Alaska’s Bristol Bay off-limits to drilling in 2014 to protect its tourism economy, commercial fisheries and importance to Alaska Native communities. But under the new plan, Bristol Bay is the only Alaskan region still protected.

And Western states are fighting back another way: In February, the California State Lands Commission informed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that the state opposes offshore drilling, that the “fossil fuels era is ending,” and that, perhaps more to the point, California will refuse to allow pipelines to be built for transporting oil or gas from new leases onto its coast.

The draft offshore leasing program is open for public comment through March 9. Several more steps remain before the plan is finalized, after which lease sales will begin. Different regions will open for bidding according to the agency’s calendar. Alaska’s Beaufort Sea opens in 2019, while southern California opens in 2020.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor for High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...