Time Is Ticking for Our Coasts

This summer the Trump administration began the process of scrapping the existing Five Year Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program that should have been the final word on drilling off our coasts through the year 2022. This wasn’t a surprise, given that on April 29, President Trump signed an Executive Order that took aim at the existing Five Year Plan, attempted to reverse permanent protections for most of the Arctic and 31 submarine canyons in the Atlantic, rolled back drilling safety measures, and fast tracked dangerous seismic airgun blasting.

What the Trump administration didn’t acknowledge was that early iterations of the plan they inherited had already considered offering leases in America’s Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and ultimately opted against it due to concerns about impacts to the climate, ecosystems, local communities and their economies. But given the administration’s proven track record of handing over the public’s lands and waters to the oil industry and polluters, we can expect that this plan will be another giveaway at the expense of communities and public health.

Any day now, President Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, is going to propose a new draft program that will tell us which U.S. coasts are on the chopping block—to be opened up for the oil industry. At risk are the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico.

What does drilling mean for these coasts?

Atlantic Coast

In the Atlantic, where more than 140 municipalities have formally opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting, a robust economy that relies on healthy oceans is just too important to risk for oil industry profits. In 2014, the U.S. Atlantic Ocean economy contributed more than $92 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). More than 60 percent of that comes from tourism, recreation, and the fishing and seafood industries. These businesses largely depend on a clean ocean, clean beaches, and abundant fish and wildlife. Together, they employ more than 1 million people, supporting 80 percent of all Atlantic ocean-based jobs. And more than that, the people who live along the Atlantic coast cherish their communities and way of life. They have already made their voices clear and have rejected risky seismic blasting and drilling.

Pacific Coast

In the Pacific, the states of Washington, Oregon and California have made decisions to drive their economies with investments in clean energy and marine conservation. Contrary to the argument that increased oil and gas production will bring jobs to California, Oregon, and Washington, the Pacific region’s thriving tourism, recreation and renewable energy industries provide economic and social benefits that far surpass those the offshore oil and gas industry can offer. In California, the only actively oil producing state in the region, the tourism and recreation sector comprises 39% of the state’s $41.2 billion ocean economy, and provides 75 percent of the ocean economy’s employment. In the Pacific, like the Atlantic, there is bipartisan agreement that offshore drilling is incompatible with the coast’s way of life and current economy.

The Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico has already been damaged irreparably by the oil and gas industry and Gulf communities have had enough of being ground zero for spills and pollution. In 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, injuring 17 others, and creating one of the worst environmental catastrophes in our nation’s history. The oil spill contaminated more than 1,300 miles of shoreline, causing mass die-offs of the Gulf’s celebrated coastal dolphins and other marine life. Nearly 1 million coastal and offshore seabirds are estimated to have died as a result of the oil spill. The commercial fishing industry lost an estimated $247 million as a result of post-spill fishery closures and total recreational use damages due to the spill are estimated at $693.2 million. Opening up the Eastern Gulf of Mexico would not only risk additional coastal communities and beaches that welcome tourists year round, and threaten endangered wildlife, but would also pose serious problems for the Department of Defense.

The Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean is America’s last essentially pristine ocean. These waters are rich feeding grounds that are essential for millions of animals including U.S. walrus population, polar bears, belugas, and ice seals. And the Beaufort Sea’s coastline is the number one land denning site for female polar bears in the U.S. Arctic. Endangered bowheads and many other whales migrate through the area. Introducing the risk of massive industrial activity into this region would put many of these animals in peril. An oil spill in this wildlife haven would be devastating. And worse, the Department of Interior’s own assessment found there is a 75 percent chance of an oil spill of greater than 1,000 barrels should even just Chukchi Sea existing leases proceed. The only safe drilling in the Arctic is no drilling at all.

As with most of our nation’s cherished lands and waters, this administration has ignored what helps citizens and focused on “energy dominance.” Though it turns out it’s only the industry that dominatesthe rest of us suffer. Keep in mind that climate change, which would be exacerbated by the expansion of offshore drilling which locks in decades of carbon pollution, is one of the greatest risks we face. In addition, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is working to dismantle rules designed to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster. There are millions of jobs in tourism, fishing, and other industries that rely on a healthy ocean in order to generate billions of economic value annually that could be at risk from offshore drilling. And finally, a majority of federal oil and gas leases are going unused, undermining the claim that we need to dramatically expand and accelerate leasing.

The Trump administration’s move to expand offshore drilling is a shortsighted mistake, made in the interest of polluters' profits, not the public. When Secretary Zinke announces the draft plan, we must all be ready to stand up speak out to defend our coasts, communities and oceans. The administration must allow 60 days for the public to comment on the draft program and make their voices heard. And we must demand that our elected officials speak out in defense of our coasts as well. Concerned citizens, communities and elected officials should be ready to say NO to this damaging plan.  

About the Authors

Alexandra Adams

Legislative Director, Nature Program

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