The Trump administration has announced that early next week it will launch the planning process for a new Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program, with the goal of effectively tearing up the Obama Administration approved program and opening our oceans and coasts to offshore drilling. The Obama program prohibits drilling in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans through 2022.
The Request for Information (RFI) that Secretary Zinke will issue is the first step in the planning process, and indicates that this administration isn’t interested in listening to the communities, businesses and citizens that have already expressed their strong opposition to risky drilling off their coasts. The recently approved Obama program was finalized after an exhaustive, multi-year process, that included extensive public input. During that process more than 1.4 million public comments opposing offshore drilling were submitted, members of the House and Senate weighed in, and thousands of coastal communities, municipalities and businesses declared their opposition to drilling and seismic testing.
This Administration’s determination to hand over our public lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry has been made plain. On April 29th, President Trump signed an Executive Order that aimed to toss out the current plan, ensure future lease sales off our coasts, remove existing protections for our unspoiled beaches, and reverse the permanent protections for most of the Arctic and 31 submarine canyons in the Atlantic.
Why Do This Now?
The question is, why throw out all the taxpayer funded work that the Department of Interior just completed? Why ignore the fact that most Americans do not want drilling off their coasts? And why disregard the clear science that opening many of these frontier areas could derail our efforts to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, locking America into decades of carbon pollution? These are all questions that seem to have a simple answer—the Trump administration, and its fossil fuel cabinet, would rather ignore science, the public and experts in favor of handing over a windfall to the oil industry. And today’s action is a key step in the fulfillment of that fossil fuel future President Trump envisions.
This willful blindness to data and public outcry will have very real impact on our communities and oceans. It will threaten wildlife populations, fish we depend on for food, and coastal communities with the harms and health hazards that accompany offshore oil and gas development, including seismic blasting, the risk of massive oil spills and routine pollution. In the Atlantic Ocean, a thriving economy based on fishing, tourism and recreation depends on clean and healthy oceans and beaches. And the Arctic ocean supports one of the world’s richest ecosystems, a biodiversity hotspot and home to polar bears, walruses, and endangered whales. Indigenous Arctic residents are already threatened by some of the worst impacts of climate change thus far, and will be harmed further by continued fossil fuel commitments.
Thankfully, there are more than a few hurdles to clear before opening an area to offshore drilling. A detailed process for determining which areas are appropriate for drilling must be followed, as required by Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The public is provided with opportunities to comment during this process. In addition, the law provides a clear set of factors to consider before an area should be opened to leasing, including environmental risks and sensitivity, all of which were considered in the current approved plan. In addition to extensive public input, the current plan included recommendations from other government agencies (such as the Department of Defense), governors and members of congress.
What Can We Do?
First, we can make our voices heard. Now is the time to call your member of congress and let them know that you do not want drilling off our coasts. Tell your senators and representatives that you want them to stand up to the Trump administration and say NO to drilling in these precious waters. Tell your governor to weigh in! Governors have a unique voice at the table. Call your governor’s office and ask them to stand strong against drilling in your state. Next, sign up for alerts from NRDC and be ready to make your voice heard. NRDC will be following the administration closely, we will be submitting comments and working with partners around the nation to make sure our oceans and coasts are protected.