Why Trump Is Wrong About Offshore Drilling

Before a president auctions off U.S. coastlines to oil companies, he has to ask state governors, Congress, local businesses, and you. Here’s how Trump is ignoring that process—and how it’s endangering coastal communities.

This is a transcript of the video.

Brian Palmer, environmental journalist, NRDC: In 1896, drillers struck oil in 35 feet of water off the Santa Barbara coast. It kicked off more than a century of arguing about the oil and gas buried in the continental shelf.

In January, the Trump administration announced a plan to expose almost the entire U.S. coastline to drilling. To understand why this decision shocked people, you have to understand a little about how the process is supposed to work and how the Trump administration basically ignored it.

In the late 1970s, the Interior Department divided the coast into 26 segments. Since then, every few years, the department is supposed to examine whether it makes sense to allow drilling in each of these areas.

And take this one: Drilling would threaten Atlantic coastal communities, which rely on fishing and tourism. So most administrations have taken this out. Alaska’s Bristol Bay hosts the world’s greatest salmon fishery, so this one usually comes out, too.

After each round of decisions, the administration is required to seek feedback from other parts of the federal government, state officials, and the public. Maybe the military asks to eliminate portions of this block, because oil exploration would interfere with naval activities. Maybe Californians ask to protect this area, because it’s home to endangered whales. There are lots of reasons not to drill for oil along the U.S. coastline.

Presidents can also place moratoria on drilling in certain areas, as the first President Bush, President Clinton, and President Obama all did. That can take them off the map permanently.

Most administrations have decided not to allow leasing along the vast majority of the coast, in part because Congress prohibited drilling in most areas up until 2008.

These are the only segments where George H. W. Bush allowed leasing in 1992.

This is Bill Clinton’s map from 1997.

This is what George W. Bush did.

And this is the most recent plan completed by President Obama in 2016. He only considered drilling leases in these three segments in the Gulf and this one in Alaska.

In President Trump’s draft plan, he excluded this one—nothing else. That’s right. Under Trump’s current proposal, drilling can happen almost anywhere in American waters.

Why would he do that? Well, while citizens, politicians, and admirals are telling the administration where not to drill, oil executives are clamoring to drill everywhere. They say things like this:

The industries reliance on advanced state-of-the-art technology ensures that we can safely and responsibly develop the vast oil and gas resources off our coast.”

You hear that enough times, and it becomes hard to resist. Here’s President Obama, one of the most environmentally friendly presidents in modern American history on April 2, 2010:

“It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.”

Eighteen days later, this happened. The oil impacted communities in five states across 1,300 miles of U.S. coastline. President Obama learned a lesson from the Deepwater Horizon: There will always be spills. That’s why near the end of his term, he banned drilling forever in most of the Arctic and important parts of the Atlantic. This is also why governors in most coastal states oppose Trump’s plan.

Drilling would threaten their economies and the communities that rely on coastal waters. Two-hundred municipalities, 1,200 local officials, and 40,000 coastal businesses have spoken out against offshore drilling in their areas.

By proposing to drill just about everywhere, President Trump is ignoring not only these people—and the permanent legal limitations instituted by past administrations—he’s also ignoring the lessons of history.

Remember those Santa Barbara wildcatters? They drilled for six years, then left the beach covered in oil.

There will always be spills.

Southeast Dispatch

While the state can take solace in the recent moratorium extension, its waters are still at risk from the devastating impacts of seismic testing.

In Conversation

Sarah Chasis, a senior attorney in the Nature Program’s Oceans division, has nearly 50 years of experience defending our coasts from offshore drilling.

Latest News

Because everyone can stand behind clean beaches, thriving coastal economies, and healthy fisheries.

onEarth Story

The 55-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund needs to be kept safe from lawmakers who suddenly find themselves strapped for cash.

onEarth Story

Plus, Big Oil (literally!) writes its own offshore drilling rules, Trump fast-tracks his border wall through more wilderness areas, and the Interior Department gets petty with its press releases.

onEarth Story

Plus, Sonny Perdue doesn’t understand cancer science, and offshore drillers are writing their own rules.

onEarth Story

Offshore drillers don’t have to follow safety rules, and an EPA official says Congress should stop asking so many questions (about how she’s not doing her job).

onEarth Story

Plus, the president looks to autocrats for anti-climate allies, and the Atlantic coastline is about to get really noisy.

Southeast Dispatch

The coral system is 85 miles long and has been there for hundreds of thousands of years.

onEarth Story

These states don’t want any part of the Interior secretary’s scheme to drill in our oceans.

onEarth Story

Eight years after the BP disaster in the Gulf, the administration aims to relax the rules designed to prevent catastrophic explosions and spills.

Southeast Dispatch

Southern communities prefer their coastlines sandy, beautiful, and bountiful—not filled with rigs and air guns blasting ships or covered in oil.

Latest News
onEarth Story

Not even the Republican governors who supported him are willing to get behind it.

NRDC in Action

NRDC played a key role in banning offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic. Once again, it’s fighting to protect those oceans—and the rest of America’s waters.

onEarth Story

Most Americans, including many congressional Republicans, are strongly opposed to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. So why is it attached to the tax bill?


The resulting loss to life, livelihoods, and the environment hasn't slowed offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But it should.

onEarth Story

In Donald Trump’s war on the environment, Americans’ complacency is his greatest ally.

Western Dispatch

As Californians protest the Trump administration’s intent to expand drilling off the Pacific coast, some city and state officials consider new legislation to block it.

Latest News

If passed, a new bill could reverse Trump’s efforts to open the Alaskan wilderness to Big Oil.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.