Commerce to Report on Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

Will report be secret? Will it call for drilling in these treasured ocean areas?

The Commerce Secretary is due to submit a report to White House officials by Wednesday that could call for offshore oil and gas drilling and mineral exploitation in some of our nation’s most precious ocean resources. This report was required by a Trump Executive Order—“Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” Executive Order 13795 Section 4(b)—which requires the Secretary to report to the OMB Director, the CEQ Chairman and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, within 180 days of April 28.

The aim of the report is to analyze how much it “costs” to ban drilling in protected ocean areas. Specifically, it will look at the opportunity costs (that is, the lost value) associated with prohibiting energy and mineral exploration and production in marine sanctuaries and marine monuments designated or expanded in the past 10 years. Oil and gas drilling is currently prohibited in the marine sanctuaries and monuments that are under review and are listed below. 

On its face, this review is clearly intended to determine whether to open these areas up to oil, gas and mineral extraction. During the comment period, there was overwhelming public opposition to opening them up. And we do not yet know whether Secretary Wilbur Ross and President Trump will respect that outpouring of public support for preserving marine protected areas. Nor do we know whether this review will be kept secret, like Interior Secretary Zinke’s report on national monuments. (A draft of that report was eventually leaked, but Zinke never disclosed an official final report, despite public outcry.) 

An analysis of public comments submitted to Commerce during the 45-day public comment period found over 99% of them supporting the U.S. marine monuments and sanctuaries. It is also noteworthy that there was no major push from industry urging that these areas be opened for oil and gas drilling or mineral extraction. The American Petroleum Institute, for example, at least in its public comments, did not request that any existing sanctuaries or monuments be opened to drilling or mining; instead it pushed for requiring an opportunity-cost analysis before any future expansions or designations of marine monuments or sanctuaries. 

This Commerce Department review is just one aspect of the Trump Administration’s attack on our public lands and waters. Interior Secretary Zinke just conducted a review this past summer and recommended rolling back ten of our nation’s land and marine monuments. For three marine national monuments—including Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—he recommended changes that would strike at the very heart of the monuments’ protective purposes, by reducing their size or allowing commercial fishing. Such changes would be illegal, in our view and the view of many legal scholars.  Similarly, any effort by President Trump to open these areas up to oil and gas drilling or mineral extraction would also be illegal and we would challenge such action in court.

The whole purpose of setting aside ocean areas for protection is to preserve fragile ecosystems and unique marine life and to build resilience to climate change and ocean acidification. Even accounting for all the protected ocean area to date, less than 3 percent of the planet’s oceans are strongly protected. To allow drilling for oil and gas in these pristine areas would be the antithesis of conservation and smart stewardship. We will fight efforts by this administration to encroach on, or destroy, these national treasures.   

National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments Under Review

Pursuant to EO 13795, Sec. 4(b)

Name

Location

Action

Date

Size in acres

Federal Register citation

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

California

Expansion

May 24, 2007

9,600

72 FR 29,208 (May 24, 2007).

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

California

Expansion

March 12, 2015

484,480

80 FR 13,078 (March 12, 2015).

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

California

Expansion

March 12, 2015

1,288,320

80 FR 13,078 (March 12, 2015).

Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands/Pacific Ocean

Designation

January 6, 2009

60,938,240

74 FR 1,557 (January 12, 2009).

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

California

Expansion

November 20, 2008

496,000

73 FR 70,488 (November 20, 2008).

National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

American Samoa

Expansion

July 26, 2012

8,691,840

77 FR 43,942 (July 26, 2012).

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

Atlantic Ocean

Designation

September 15, 2016

3,114,320

81 FR 65,161 (September 21, 2016).

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Pacific Ocean

Designation; Expansion

January 6, 2009; September 25, 2014

55,608,320

74 FR 1,565 (January 12, 2009); 79 FR 58,645 (September 29, 2014).

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Hawaii

Expansion

August 26, 2016

283,379,840

81 FR 60,227 (August 31, 2016).

Rose Atoll Marine National Monument 1

American Samoa

Designation

January 6, 2009

8,608,640

74 FR 1,577 (January 12, 2009).

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Michigan

Expansion

September 5, 2014

2,465,280

79 FR 52,960 (September 5, 2014).

Note: This includes areas designated/expanded since April 2006, not portions designated prior to that date.          

About the Authors

Sarah Chasis

Senior Attorney and Director, Oceans program

Join Us