The Trump administration moved Thursday to vastly expand offshore drilling with a plan that would open up federal waters off California for the first time in more than three decades.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan, saying that responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.
The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies, Zinke said, with 47 leases proposed off the nation’s coastlines from 2019 to 2024. Nineteen sales would be off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California.
“This is a draft program,” Zinke told reporters during a conference call. “Nothing is final yet, and our department is continuing to engage the American people to get to our final product.”
California 2nd District Rep. Jared Huffman said in a Thursday statement that Zinke’s announcement “confirms that the Trump administration is hell-bent on trampling the public interest and further lining the pockets of Big Oil at the expense of clean air, clean water, and the health of the American people.”
“Californians will never let this happen,” the Democratic congressman stated. “Our state has shown that we can have a growing economy along with environmental protections, and we have made it very clear, again and again, that we do not want to put our fisheries, our beaches, or our coastal economies at risk just to enrich the fossil fuel industry.
“The bottom line is that offshore drilling means oil spills, and the risk is even higher now that the Trump administration is weakening offshore safety rules,” he continued. “This reckless proposal for a new offshore drilling spree should face widespread, bipartisan opposition. We’ll fight them in Congress, on the beaches, in the courts, and at the ballot box. I’m confident we’ll defeat this dangerous plan.”
California was the site of the first offshore drilling in the U.S. more than 120 years ago, but the region was tarnished by one of the worst spills in U.S. history in 1969, when more than 3 million gallons of oil poured into the ocean near Santa Barbara.
Thousands of sea birds were killed, along with dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions. Virtually all commercial fishing near Santa Barbara was halted, and tourism dropped dramatically.
Public outrage generated by the spill helped spark the modern environmental movement, and no federal leases have been granted off the California coast since 1984.
Democratic Govs. Jerry Brown of California, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington issued a joint statement against the proposal, which they said ignored science and the devastation of past offshore spills.
“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” they said.
Brown vowed to block “this reckless, short-sighted action.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also issued a statement Thursday.
“The Trump administration’s reckless ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach threatens our oceans and coasts while doing nothing to increase our energy independence,” she stated. “California neither needs nor wants risky new offshore oil rigs, and I’ll do all I can to oppose this plan.”
The new five-year drilling plan could also open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Florida to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades. While some lawmakers in those states support offshore drilling, the plan drew immediate opposition from governors up and down the East Coast, including Republican Govs. Rick Scott of Florida and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who pressed President Donald Trump to withdraw their states from consideration.
Industry groups praised the announcement, which would be the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades. The proposal follows Trump’s executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters, part of the administration’s strategy to help the U.S. achieve “energy dominance” in the global market.
A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose “severe and unacceptable harm” to America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.
The proposal comes less than a week after the Trump administration proposed to rewrite or kill rules on offshore oil and gas drilling imposed after the 2010 rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The accident on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The Trump administration called the rules an unnecessary burden on industry and said rolling them back will encourage more energy production. Environmentalists said Trump was raising the risk of more deadly oil spills.
The Times-Standard contributed to this report.