Trump Administration Proposes Opening Millions of Acres Offshore to Oil and Gas Development

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BP oil and chemicals make landfall during Gulf oil spill, May 8, 2010: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson –

MOBILE, Ala. — The Trump administration has announced a plan to open up more offshore waters in the continental United States to oil and gas exploration and to remove federal regulations imposed by previous administrations on oil and gas drilling, in spite of findings in a federal lawsuit in the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill that showed the lack of regulations and enforcement were partially to blame for the largest and most costly environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Ryan Zinke, Trump’s pro-industry pick as Secretary of the Interior, announced the move on stage at an Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on Monday after signing two secretarial orders for the stated purpose of “unleashing America’s offshore energy potential and growing the U.S. economy.”

The first order implements President Trump’s Executive Order signed Friday and directs the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a new five-year plan for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters and reconsider a number of regulations governing those activities. The second order establishes a new position – Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy – to coordinate the Interior Department’s energy portfolio that spans nine of the Department’s 10 bureaus.

“Following through on the leadership established by President Trump, today’s orders will help cement our nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy independence and security for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that this development is safe and environmentally responsible,” Secretary Zinke told industry representatives at the conference in Houston. “We will conduct a thorough review of the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas exploration and listen to state and local stakeholders. We also will conduct a thorough review of regulations that were created with good intentions but have had harmful impacts on America’s energy security.”

Secretarial Order 3550 directs BOEM to immediately develop a new “Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program” with full consideration given to leasing the OCS offshore Alaska, mid- and south-Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration had suspended activity in the Arctic National Wilflife Refuge in Alaska and off the Atlantic coast.

It also directs the agency to work with the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service to expedite authorization requests for seismic surveys, particularly for new or resubmitted permitting applications in the Atlantic “to understand the extent of America’s energy potential.”

The order also directs prompt completion of the notice of lessees dated September 12, 2016, and ceases all activities to promulgate the proposed “Offshore Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance Rule.” The order also directs BOEM and BSEE to review a host of other rules and report progress within 21 days.

“We’re going to look at everything and make sure the policies are appropriate for each local community, rather than force a Washington-driven one-size-fits-all plan,” Zinke said “There’s no predetermined map of development, but if there are areas that are acceptable, that have resources, and states and local communities support offshore development, we could include those areas in the next 5-Year program.”

As a featured speaker at the conference, Zinke said the outer continental shelf production accounts for about 18 percent of domestic crude oil and 4 percent of the domestic natural gas supply. Federal leasing revenues for the outer continental shelf amounted to about $2.8 billion in 2016. By contrast, in 2008 federal leasing revenues for the OCS were nearly $18 billion.

“That’s a drop of more than $15 billion that would otherwise go to the Treasury or toward funding important conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund,” Zinke said. “We are committed to fuller cooperation with the offshore industry and coastal communities to expand responsible energy development while holding industry accountable to strict safety and environmental protections.”

He claimed that inspectors conduct more than 19,000 inspections a year now, since the Obama administration ramped up regulations and inspections in the wake of the BP oil spill, to ensure the safe and environmentally responsible operation of nearly 2,400 offshore oil and gas drilling and production facilities and 27,000 miles of pipeline. He did not make it clear how removing the regulations imposed by the Obama administration would impact that number or the safety of oil and gas drilling offshore.

Of the 1.7 billion acres of the outer continental shelf, only 16.9 million acres are leased for oil and gas development with 4.4 million of those acres (885 blocks) producing oil and gas. About 97 percent of all OCS leases are currently in the Gulf of Mexico, which environmentalists have protested for decades claiming the Gulf is “America’s dumping zone” for pollution.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates the U.S. OCS has about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas. The Gulf of Mexico, covering 160 million acres of the OCS, has an estimated 48.46 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 141.76 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued a draft plan to develop a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Gulf of Mexico OCS oil and gas lease sales proposed for 2018, and has opened up a 45-day comment period with public meetings scheduled to discuss a region-wide sale in Houston Texas, New Orleans Louisiana, Gulf Breeze Mississippi, Mobile Alabama, and Pensacola Florida.

The draft contains analyses of the potential environmental impacts that could result from a proposed region-wide lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, including preliminary results of new air quality modeling. The preliminary results have not yet been subject to review.

The agency is interested in comments regarding the modeling and analysis. In the region-wide sale, the agency proposes to offer all available unleased blocks within the Western Planning Area, Central Planning Area, and Eastern Planning Area, with the exception of the whole and portions of blocks deferred by the Gulf of Mexico Security Act of 2006, blocks that are adjacent to or beyond the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone in the area known as the northern portion of the Eastern Gap, as well as whole and partial blocks within the current boundary of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The region-wide lease sale area covers about 95 million acres.

“These proposed leases show that the agency is a poor student of the lesson that the BP oil geyser tried to teach,” David Underhill, conservation chair of the Mobile Bay Sierra Club, said in reaction to the proposal.

The proposed leases are mostly in deep water where mistakes are hard to control or correct, he said, “dangerous water.” The proposal ignores the need to escape the fossil fuel addiction which is damaging the health of the planet, including human health.

“The correct lesson to learn from the BP eruption,” Underhill said, “would be to use the resulting fines and compensation payments for beginning to build a sustainable energy economy.”

Public Meetings

The agency will hold public meetings to obtain comments in an open-house format and may be attended any time between 4 p.m. CDT and 7 p.m. CDT. Meetings have already been held in New Orleans and Houston. The meeting in Pensacola, Florida will be Monday, May 1 at the Hilton Garden Inn by the Pensacola Airport.

The meeting in Mobile, Alabama will be held Tuesday, May 2 at the Admiral Hotel Mobile, 251 Government Street.

The meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi will be held Wednesday, May 3 at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1600 East Beach Boulevard.

If you cannot attend the meetings, written comments can be submitted on the 2018 GOM Draft Supplemental EIS no later than May 15, 2017, in one of the following ways:

In an envelope labeled “Comments on the 2018 GOM Draft Supplemental EIS” and mailed (or hand delivered) to Mr. Greg Kozlowski, Deputy Regional Supervisor, Office of Environment (GM 623E), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394.

Or you can make comments online through the regulations.gov web portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket No. BOEM-2017-0001. Click on the “Comment Now!” button to the right of the document link. Enter your information and comment, and then click “Submit.”

The Notice was published Monday in the Federal Register at: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/public-inspection/index.html.

You can also download or view the 2018 GOM Draft Supplemental EIS on BOEM’s website at http://www.boem.gov/nepaprocess/.

The deadline for submitting a comment is May 15, 2017.

If you have questions regarding the document, please call Mr. Greg Kozlowski at 504-736-2512.

If you have any comments in favor of this move or in opposition, we welcome them below.

More Photos of the BP Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

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As the oil makes landfall on May 8, 2010, it appears booms failed to stop the invading oil: Glynn Wilson

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An overflight on May 8, 2010 shows BPs oil as a giant slick: Glynn Wilson

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BP’s oil washed ashore and spoiled hundreds of acres of marsh from New Orleans to Florida: Glynn Wilson

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Workers clean oil from beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, June 2010: Glynn Wilson

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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