In 2016, President Obama permanently ended oil and gas leasing in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The move, long advocated for by NRDC, was hailed as a legacy-making decision. But President Trump’s April 2017 executive order attempts to illegally roll back these protections, and in January 2018, in response to Trump's order, then U.S. Department of the Interior secretary Ryan Zinke took the first step to tear up the Obama administration’s five-year oil and gas leasing program plan, proposing to open up nearly all federal waters to destructive and dangerous oil and gas extraction—from the most pristine areas of the Arctic to the economically important southeastern coast.
Chance of a major oil spill when drilling in just one lease area in the Arctic
Days after Trump’s executive order, NRDC made its own announcement: We’re suing. Together with our partners, NRDC’s lawyers challenged Trump’s illegal executive order for the sake of our oceans, coastal communities, and a clean energy future. And it worked: In April 2019, it was reported that the Interior Department's plan to ramp up offshore oil and gas leasing has been sidelined indefinitely, a result of a federal court ruling that same month, which reinstated the Obama-era ban on offshore drilling that protects nearly 128 million acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans combined. But, despite this reprieve, there is no sign that the Trump administration has given up on its quest to open up our oceans to polluters.
The Arctic environment is harsh enough to almost guarantee more disasters and irreparable damage to ecosystems. In the Atlantic and Pacific, one spill could mean billions in lost fishing and tourism revenue. In California, investments in marine protection and clean energy have bolstered the state's $25 million tourism and recreation economy that employs nearly half a million residents. And the Atlantic coast is heavily dependent on tourism and recreation, which are simply incompatible with offshore drilling and the risk it brings. The Gulf of Mexico is still recovering from the devastating 2010 BP oil disaster. Oil and gas exploration tactics like seismic blasting are already known to injure and kill whales and other marine life. Not only that, digging up dirty fossil fuels locks us into decades of carbon pollution and is a giant step back in the fight against climate change. Investing in offshore drilling is not only destructive—it’s nonsense.