Interior Department outlines plan to add up to 47 new oil and gas leases, including six off California coast.
NATIONWIDE — The return of offshore drilling to California’s popular coast appears to be in vogue again, thanks to Pres. Donald J. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda. As many as six offshore locations along California’s coast could be designated for oil leases, part of a great plan under the Trump Administration to establish the U.S.’s energy dominance.
An Interior Department announcement, made Jan. 4 by Sec. Ryan Zinke, outlined a national plan to expand offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard and Pacific Ocean Coast, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. The drilling plan would be executed during a five-year stretch and, according to the Associated Press, open the door for new oil and gas exploration in areas previously protected from such activity.
In all the United States could add 47 new oil and gas leases at various offshore locations surrounding the country. The stretch of ocean between San Diego and Crescent City could be home to six of the seven planned drilling locations in the Pacific region. Another 19 locations could be designated off the coast of Alaska. Also targeted: the Gulf of Mexico (12 possible locations) and Atlantic region (9 possible locations).
The Southern California zone, which essentially covers the coast between San Luis Obispo and the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, could see two new offshore drilling leases by 2022, according to the “Zinke Plan.” Other leases in Central and Northern California could go into effect by 2023.
Oil leases for offshore drilling would not be allowed within a national marine sanctuary – such as Channel Islands or Monterey Bay – or in state waters. All other waters between 3 and 200 miles offshore would be fair game for drilling.
What role would other state agencies play in the next few years, assuming the proposed oil leases are realized? Will such leases be subject to California Coastal Commission approval, for example? These and many more questions should certainly be asked as the public input process plays out.
Of course the six potential drilling sites off the California coast are part of a larger plan, according to the Department of Interior.
A statement issued by the Department of Interior, which is headed by Zinke, said the 47 proposed drilling sites is the third most ever proposed for a five-year schedule of the National Outer Continental Shelf Program.
Zinke, in a published statement coinciding with the administration’s announcement of its offshore drilling plan, said his department would oversee a “lengthy and robust public comment period,” meaning stakeholders and voters across the country will have an opportunity to chime in and potentially dictate the extent of Trump’s proposed policy.
He added out the proposed plan is just that – a proposal. Nothing is final, as of yet.
“Not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling,” Zinke said in his released statement. “We will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”
It’s difficult to disagree with such a platitude or broad brushstroke of a statement. Protecting our coastlines, while pursuing energy goals seems like a reasonable goal. The question comes down to cost – not necessarily dollars and cents, but instead effects on our environment.
California, for example, has not issued any oil leases for offshore drilling since 1984. Is there a good reason why we held off on such leases for nearly 34 years? What have we gained from the nearly two-generation moratorium? Did such gains, if any and whether tangible or otherwise, come with certain opportunity costs?
Gov. Jerry Brown joined his counterparts in Oregon and Washington in stating the “Zinke Plan” is dangerous to the Pacific coast’s overall ecosystem and environment.
“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states,” Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Insleet said in a joint statement. “They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said the “days for drilling are numbered.” The United States, she said, should pursue clean energy alternatives, which she believed could “grow our economy faster without jeopardizing our coastal economies and natural resources.”
Feinstein cited the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 as a reason why offshore drilling would be a bad idea off the California coast.
“It’s particularly shocking that the administration is pushing for new oil drilling off the coast of California,” Feinstein wrote in a released statement. “We still remember the horror of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, when an offshore oilrig leaked more than 100,000 barrels. There has been no new drilling in state waters since that spill and no new drilling in federal waters off the coast of California since 1984.”
The senior senator from California stated she would oppose the Trump Administration’s plan.
Also opposing the “Zinke Plan” was California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris. She described the push for increased offshore drilling as “harmful.”
“This is an incredibly harmful move by an Administration that is already doing everything it can to wreak havoc on our environment,” Harris wrote in a tweet shortly after Zinke’s announcement. “Offshore drilling poses a grave threat to the health and well-being of Californians and we must stand up for our natural resources and public health.”
Zinke’s proposal also drew opposition from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who stated the Interior Department’s plan to increase offshore drilling would be a threat to her state’s marine resources.
“I continue to oppose efforts to open Maine’s coast to drilling, which poses significant risk to marine and coastal resources, our economy, and our way of life,” Collins stated on Twitter.
Meanwhile The Sierra Club hinted it would explore legal options to challenge the Administration’s ambitious plan to expand the nation’s offshore drilling initiatives.
Other legislators, such as Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, stated offshore drilling expansion would create jobs and strengthen the U.S.’s energy position.
“Opening the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to American energy producers will create thousands of jobs in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states, and bring billions of dollars of investment to our country. This proposal would mean better paychecks and opportunities for American workers and more affordable energy for their families.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, meanwhile, urged Zinke and the Department of Interior to recognize a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. The east coast of Florida was hit hard by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, leasing to a moratorium on drilling until 2022. Rubio hopes to extend the moratorium until 2027.
Also opposing the Interior Department proposal was Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.
Supporters of offshore drilling, conversely, also argued oil spills aren’t common phenomena and responsible planning of rigs and energy extraction wouldn’t cause significant environmental harm.
The question is whether the devil is in the details. Sound bites from legislators and Trump Administration members don’t really pierce the veil of what’s really going on with the Interior Department’s proposal.
Seven sites in the Pacific region could be home to new offshore drilling projects, but what would those projects entail? Zinke’s proposal did not reveal much, other than to point out 43 oil leases are currently in producing status within the Southern California planning area alone.