Expect Trump to 'open the floodgates' for offshore drillers, conservation group says

A new draft on licenses for offshore oil and gas operations is expected from the federal government as early as Thursday.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Jan. 4, 2018 at 9:35 AM
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Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A new offshore license schedule from the Trump administration could "open the floodgates" for drillers in the outer continental shelf, an advocacy group said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said that very soon the administration would put out a draft on new leases for U.S. territorial waters.

President Donald Trump in April signed an executive order that directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to evaluate the five-year moratorium issued by former President Barack Obama prohibiting oil and gas drilling in some U.S. federal waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic.

Among Trump's targets was the five-year drilling plan covering 2017-22, issued by Obama's administration, which barred offshore drilling in some waters. That plan listed 10 leases in the Gulf of Mexico and another near Alaska for drilling, but removed parts of the Arctic and the Atlantic from availability.

Dustin Cranor, a senior communications director at the conservation group Oceana, told UPI that governors from states up and down the Atlantic coast, the California Senate, southern fisheries group and even the Department of Defense are on record stating their opposition to some of the leases that may be included in the five-year drilling plan expected from the Trump administration.

"It appears the administration is about to open the floodgates to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling, threatening coastal economies that rely on clean and healthy oceans," he said. "If offshore drilling is allowed to expand into new areas like the Atlantic, it will be a clear example of politics over people, ignoring widespread local and state opposition."

Cranor said the rule proposal from the BOEM could come out as early as Thursday.

On the last workday of 2017, the Trump administration published a proposed change in the rules for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Federal Registry. Among the provisions, the department said it would remove the requirement for a third party to certify that certain safety devices are "designed to function in the most extreme conditions to which it will be exposed and that the device will function as designed."

The BSEE under Obama developed new standards to close what it viewed as gaps in the measures enacted in the wake of the BP oil spill in 2010. New rules covered blowout preventers, equipment used to close down a failed well. The failure of the blowout preventer was among the cascading series of events that led to the 2010 disaster that left 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig dead.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said Wednesday he'd invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act to try to block the offshore safety roll back.

"I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints," Nelson said from the Senate floor, "and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state."

Nelson has been a long-time opponent of offshore drilling. For defense, the Pentagon in 2016 said there may be areas of potential oil and gas work in the Atlantic that may not be compatible with defense operations and interests. Anthony Kurta, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said last year that keeping parts of the Gulf of Mexico off limits beyond 2022 was essential for developing future combat readiness.

The National Ocean Industries Association, an industry trade group, estimates the Atlantic holds about 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though those estimates are based on seismic surveys from more than 30 years ago.

The BOEM's eventual proposal will only be in the draft stage and opened up for public comment. The draft proposal is expected soon, followed by a 60-day comment period. A formal proposal is expected in late 2018, followed by another 90-day comment period and a proposed final program for the lease isn't expected until late 2019. Approval would come 60 days after that.

In his obligatory National Security Strategy, Trump, a president eager to remove anything that stands in the way of energy dominance, said the United States under his direction would use its newfound role as an energy exporter to become an oil and gas superpower.

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