The Federal Government just spent three years painstakingly assessing the nation’s offshore drilling policies, following the dictates of the law governing management of our public coastal waters. The previous administration conducted a thorough analysis of the benefits and risks, while receiving extensive input from industry, potentially impacted communities and businesses, and the public at large. That process revealed a massive groundswell of public opposition to expanded drilling off our coasts, as well as significant scientific and economic data showing that opening drilling into frontier areas is not in the public interest.
And yet, just a few months later, President Trump’s Interior Department (DOI) is looking to scrap that plan and start again. On July 3rd, the Department of the Interior at the behest of oil and gas companies issued a Request for Information on offshore oil and gas leasing, initiating a redundant, multi-year process to expand drilling off our coasts.
The Department of the Interior evaluated drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, as well the Atlantic Ocean when it began the process several years ago, and ultimately determined it was a bad call. The Arctic is pristine—there’s never been oil production in its federal offshore waters despite an expensive and catastrophic attempt at exploration by the oil major Shell in 2012. It supports iconic wildlife, including polar bears, whales, and all sorts of seal species, which, in turn, support the subsistence lifestyle of the northernmost Alaskan Native tribes. Similarly, the Atlantic Ocean has been off the table for drilling for more than 30 years, supports incredibly rich marine ecosystems, and is a primary economic driver for hundreds of communities up and down the coast. All of this would be at risk of devastation if those oceans were drilled and oil were to spill. As leaders of the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling wrote last week in the New York Times, “drilling in the outer continental shelf remains risky business.”
DOI ultimately removed Arctic and Atlantic lease sales from consideration in part thanks to overwhelming public opposition and instead President Obama opted to permanently protect the vast majority of the Arctic and 31 Atlantic deep sea canyons from all future drilling. Removing these areas reflected the public’s preference for preservation over exploitation with Americans submitting more than 1.4 million comments opposing drilling; their elected representatives repeatedly calling on President Obama to protect their coasts; businesses and municipalities declaring their opposition to drilling and seismic testing; and a host of environmental, Latino, conservation, faith-based leaders, and veterans organizations urging the President to steer our offshore energy policy forward.
This recent history is repeating itself, and then some.
Communities immediately rallied upon the release of Trump’s executive order to expand offshore oil and gas production; they came together again around the annual Hands Across the Sand event; and Members of Congress and Senators have introduced a number of bills to prevent drilling off their coasts. Bipartisan opposition is growing, and Governors are weighing in strongly as well. These coastal leaders are taking a stand and protecting their communities’ economies and way of life:
- Last week, Larry Hogan, Republican Governor of Maryland, stated plainly, “I’m not in favor of offshore drilling.”
- South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford introduced a bill to place a moratorium on drilling in the Atlantic, Straits of Florida and Eastern Gulf, and continues to lead opposition on behalf of South Carolina.
- New Jersey Republican Frank LoBiondo worked with his colleagues to rally more than 100 members of Congress to send a letter to the Trump administration urging that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans remain off limits for oil and gas drilling.
- Florida Republican John Rutherford and Virginia Democrat Don Beyer teamed up to lead a bipartisan letter from more than 100 members of Congress to Interior Secretary Zinke voicing concerns with a proposal to issue seismic testing permits for the Atlantic Ocean.
- Senators called on the Trump Administration to protect coastlines from offshore oil drilling in a strong letter, and introduced legislation to prohibit Interior Secretary Zinke from revising approved offshore drilling plan for 2017-2022 to open up new areas.
Similarly, editorial boards up and down the Atlantic coast have taken firm stances against expanded drilling. These are just a few examples:
- The voice of the The Virginian-Pilot, out of Virginia Beach, urged readers to submit comments to Interior’s RFI docket, saying, “All of Hampton Roads has a vested interest in protecting its coasts for a number of reasons, and citizens should make sure that Washington knows why.”
- The Baltimore Sun was a little blunter, titling their editorial, “Offshore drilling is a loser.”
- Sarasota Florida’s Herald-Tribune took a similar tone, writing, “In March, 17 members of Congress representing Florida, Republicans and Democrats, sent a letter putting the secretary of the interior—and, by extension, Trump—on notice: Keep the eastern Gulf of Mexico off limits to drilling for gas and oil, or expect a fight….Let’s get ready to rumble.”
The engagement of leaders across the political spectrum, and the editorial boards that reflect their communities’ voices, is strong evidence that attempts to open our coasts will be met with a fight. The communities, people and businesses that rely on healthy coasts will defend their way of life against the federal government’s shameful readiness to put oil industry profits over people yet again.