Let's Protect the West Coast from Offshore Drilling

President Biden’s bold executive order sets in motion a suite of actions to fight the climate crisis, including pausing new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and in offshore waters.

President Biden’s bold executive order sets in motion a suite of actions to fight the climate crisis, including pausing new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and in offshore waters. This protective measure includes the rich and vibrant waters off the West Coast, which had been targeted for further development under the Trump Administration. Protecting these waters is the right move for now, and we’d like to see these protections become permanent. We at NRDC will continue working towards that goal so that future generations can enjoy a healthy ocean.   

Following the executive order, no new leases can be issued until key agencies complete a review of federal leasing practices “in light of the Secretary of the Interior’s broad stewardship responsibilities over the public lands and in offshore waters, including potential climate and other impacts” associated with oil and gas development. The order also encourages renewable energy development and creates pathways for thousands of green jobs.

Transitioning away from offshore oil drilling will help curb the runaway pace of climate change. In the last comprehensive environmental review for the offshore oil and gas leasing program, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found that continuing the program would significantly increase global greenhouse gas emissions from exploration, extraction, and the downstream consumption of fossil fuels. A healthy ocean depends on taking dramatic action today—as my colleague, Lisa Speer, has blogged, climate change is already disrupting many ocean systems and restoring ocean health requires significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Protecting our ocean from new offshore oil drilling clears the way for wildlife to thrive and supports a sustainable economy reliant on a healthy ocean. For example, in my home state of California, our ocean supports unique ecosystems and wildlife, including migrating whales, sea turtles, and sea otters. Our waters also support over half a million jobs through tourism, recreation, and fishing, industries which generate over $43.5 billion a year. Continued offshore oil and gas development would threaten ocean health and the jobs that depend on it. As I’ve previously blogged about, oil spills can devastate ecosystems for years, and our state has had its own share of catastrophic oil spills. There is no place for continued drilling in our waters.

Ensuring vibrant ocean ecosystems and the robust economy that goes along with them requires ending new offshore oil and gas lease sales and transitioning to clean energy sources. We already see momentum towards achieving those goals. Several recently introduced bills in the Senate and House—the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, the California Clean Coast Act—prohibit new oil and gas lease sales off the West Coast. And as my colleague, Sandy Aylesworth has blogged, when done right, offshore wind has great potential as a clean energy source. We look forward to seeing these vehicles to transition away from a dirty fossil fuel economy move ahead over the coming years.

With the new administration and a new Congress, we have an opportunity to craft a better way forward for coastal economies, one that prioritizes clean energy and green jobs, and we at NRDC will work our hardest to move us all in that direction.   

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.