President Trump signed an executive order Friday that aims to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas, in a move welcomed by the oil and gas industry and greeted with alarm by environmental groups.
(From NPR / By Nathan Rott and Merrit Kennedy ) — “Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent,” Trump said before signing the document. He said previous restrictions on exploration and production deprive the U.S. of “potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth.”
The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan in which President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans. Zinke told reporters Thursday night that will be a long process, and a complex one, acknowledging that not all areas have oil or gas, and not all coastal communities want offshore drilling.
But Zinke said revenue from offshore leasing had dropped by $15 billion during the Obama administration, with some of that due to the dropping price of oil, “but not all of it.” He added that 94 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf is currently off limits for development of any kind.
The oil and gas industry is enthusiastic about today’s executive order. In a statement, Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute said expanding drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in particular “could create thousands of jobs and provide billions of dollars in government revenue.”
Along the Atlantic coast, though, more than 100 cities and towns have passed resolutions against offshore drilling. In Kure Beach, N.C., Mayor Emilie Swearingen said tourism is the second largest industry in the state. “We don’t want the devastation from an oil spill,” she said. “It’s not whether it would happen, but when it would happen.”
George Edwardson, president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, said his council may consider filing suit at some point to challenge an expansion of offshore drilling. “Most of our food comes from the ocean,” he said.
Zinke told reporters the administration will not remove the “stringent environmental safeguards already in place.” He also said he was optimistic about the development of offshore wind energy.
The Obama administration’s drilling bans will remain in place for now. But even if they are eventually rolled back, there are questions about how effective the executive order will be in spurring new drilling. The price of oil is relatively low, hovering at about $50 a barrel, and offshore drilling is an expensive endeavor, especially in places like the Arctic. When asked whether the administration had been approached by any companies interested in drilling in the Arctic, Zinke said, “No.”