The Trump administration unveiled a controversial proposal Thursday to permit drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic, where oil and gas exploration is opposed by governors from New Jersey to Florida, nearly a dozen attorneys general, more than 100 U.S. lawmakers and the Defense Department.
Under the proposal, only one of 26 planning areas in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean would be off limits to oil and gas exploration, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He said the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management has identified 47 potential areas where industry companies can buy leases between 2019 and 2024, when the proposed period would begin and end.
The Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program was embraced by oil and gas industry groups but is expected to face withering opposition from a wide range of state officials and conservationists. “Nothing is final,” Zinke said in remarks at a news conference. “This is a draft program. The states, local communities and congressional delegations will all have a say” before the proposal becomes final in the coming months.
Zinke said the proposal is consistent with President Trump’s executive order in April to widen energy exploration. He said it was a clear departure from the Obama administration’s effort to protect areas rather than exploit them. “This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” the secretary said. He vowed that the Trump administration would heed environmental safeguards.
But potential environmental disasters are on the minds of numerous Atlantic-coast governors who oppose drilling in four planning areas from Maine to the Florida Keys. In a resounding bipartisan call, Republicans and Democrats have said in no uncertain terms that oil and gas drilling should not be allowed.
“Protecting our environment and precious natural resources is a top priority for Governor Hogan and exactly why he has made clear that he opposes this kind of exploration off our coastline,” said Douglass Mayer, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Mayer said Hogan directed his attorney general “to take any legal action necessary against the federal government to prevent this possible exploration.”