Trump administration takes steps to open up federal waters for offshore drilling

Trump administration takes steps to open up federal waters for offshore drilling
In a move that overturns the Obama administration’s ban on oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic ocean, the Interior Department has announced that a new five-year offshore drilling plan is now open for public comment.

The 45-day comment period, published in Monday’s Federal Register, marks the first step in what will be a lengthy process to rewrite the Obama administration's drilling ban program.

The plan will focus on 26 areas in federal waters that could be leased for oil and natural gas production. The Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and waters off south-central Alaska are among the areas that could be leased.

President Trump announced last Thursday the public comment period would begin this week as part of his agenda to open up more American offshore areas for fossil fuel exploration.

“Under the previous administration, so much of our land was closed to development. We’re opening it up. The right areas, we’re opening it up,” Trump told reporters, according to the Hill.

“America will be allowed to access the vast energy wealth located right off our shores.”

The ban, introduced by the Obama administration in December 2016, prohibited offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and in all but 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort sea to protect a “unique and vibrant Arctic ecosystem.”

The White House argued the risks of oil spills in the area were too great. Obama also designated 31 major underwater canyons as off-limits to drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from Heezen Canyon, New England to the Norfolk Canyon near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

The American Petroleum Institute argued at the time that the ban would “take us in the wrong direction… weaken our national security, destroy good-paying jobs, and could make energy less affordable for customers.”

A 2016 Minerals Management Service (MMS) resource assessment on oil and gas reserves in the outer continental shelf regions – Alaska, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific – estimated that it held 86 billions barrels of oil. At current oil consumption rates, those reserves could be depleted in 11 years, according to Wired.

In April, Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reconsider the five-year offshore drilling plan instituted by Obama.

The Department of the Interior has proposed allowing seismic testing for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean, the first step toward potential drilling in the area.