Elec­tion reignites off­shore-oil drilling de­bate

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Patrick Whit­tle

The con­tro­versy over drilling for oil in the At­lantic Ocean has been reignited by the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and coastal busi­nesses say it could be the first ma­jor fault line that di­vides them from the new pres­i­dent.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved to re­strict ac­cess to off­shore oil drilling leases in the At­lantic, as well as off Alaska. Com­mer­cial oil pro­duc­tion has never happened off the East Coast — and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­sider that a ma­jor vic­tory dur­ing Obama’s ten­ure.

But Pres­i­dent-elect Trump has said that he in­tends to use all avail­able fuel re­serves for en­ergy self-suf­fi­ciency — and that it’s time to be open­ing up off­shore drilling.

While sup­port­ers say that ex­panded oil ex­plo­ration is poised to be­come one of Trump’s sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ments, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and other op­po­nents see oil drilling pol­icy as a loom­ing con­flict. Jac­que­line Savitz, vice pres­i­dent of the ocean con­ser­va­tion­ist group Oceana, said she fears a re­turn to the hard­fought strug­gles en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists faced with the pre­vi­ous Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We’re hop­ing we’re not about to fall back into the ‘drill, baby, drill’ way of think­ing,” she said. “Off­shore drilling in the At­lantic is not a good in­vest­ment.”

The Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, a key voice of the oil and gas in­dus­tries, has long said more ag­gres­sive drilling is needed for the U.S. to re­main a world leader in en­ergy pro­duc­tion. The group ac­cused Obama in May of lack­ing a long-term “vi­sion” for fos­sil fu­els ex­trac­tion; its lead­ers say that Trump’s pres­i­dency rep­re­sents a new dawn and that they in­tend to hold him to his word about fos-

sil fu­els.

“As a can­di­date, Pres­i­dent-elect Trump pledged to pur­sue an en­ergy ap­proach that would in­clude open­ing fed­eral lands for oil and gas pro­duc­tion in­clud­ing off­shore ar­eas,” said in­sti­tute spokesman Michael Tadeo.

Early signs sug­gest Trump will make good on his plans for more ag­gres­sive drilling.

One of his fa­vorites to lead the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is My­ron Ebell, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment at the Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a prom­i­nent re­jecter of the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on cli­mate change. He is a long­time ally of the petroleum in­dus­try and a critic of the agency he would lead.

Trump’s fa­vorites for en­ergy sec­re­tary in­clude Ok­la­homa oil bil­lion­aire Harold Hamm and drilling pro­po­nent Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

The Trump tran­si­tion team did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Trump has said that it’s “in­cred­i­ble that we’re go­ing slow on drilling,” and that he sup­ports coastal drilling when it “can be done re­spon­si­bly.”

Trump’s stance threat­ens to put a political prom­ise ahead of sci­ence, said Cas­cade Sorte, a pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy with a fo­cus on ma­rine sys­tems at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine.

“I’m con­cerned there might not be the data that we need about what we’re de­stroy­ing be­fore we de­stroy it,” she said.

The Gulf of Mex­ico is the main off­shore area that the U.S. plumbs for oil and gas. But in March 2010, Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased a re­port that said the Gulf alone can’t be ex­pected to meet in­creas­ing en­ergy de­mands. The re­port in­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing up off­shore Vir­ginia for oil and gas ex­plo­ration, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled leases in the mid­dle and south­ern East Coast were pos­si­ble.

The plan got im­me­di­ate push­back from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, who feared it would dam­age ecosys­tems. A month later, the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon ex­plo­sion in the Gulf of Mex­ico put a hold on plans for ex­pand­ing drilling.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say any at­tempt to re­verse Obama’s re­stric­tions on At­lantic and Alaskan drilling would gal­va­nize re­sis­tance, as happened af­ter the Gulf spill — and be­fore that, fol­low­ing the 1969 Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia, oil spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker dis­as­ter in Alaska.

“If Pres­i­dent-elect Trump tries to undo any of those mea­sures, he will be re­ject­ing both sci­ence and the peo­ple and he will meet op­po­si­tion,” said Green­peace spokesman Perry Wheeler.

Demo­cratic sen­a­tors on both coasts have called for Obama to block any pos­si­bil­ity of Pa­cific or At­lantic drilling be­fore Trump takes of­fice.

Many Alaska of­fi­cials strongly back open­ing the Beau­fort and Chukchi seas in the U.S. por­tion of the Arc­tic Ocean to drilling. But Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion last week an­nounced a five-year off­shore drilling plan that blocks the sale of new oil and gas drilling rights there.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion also has an­nounced the At­lantic would not be in­cluded in the next round of off­shore oil leases, avail­able from 2017 to 2022. Con­nie Gil­lette, who over­sees leases for the Bureau of Ocean En­ergy Man­age­ment, said that for now, the soon­est any leases could be of­fered is 2023 to 2028.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Demo­cratic U.S. Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez ad­dresses a large rally Jan. 31 in As­bury Park, N.J., op­pos­ing fed­eral plans that would al­low oil and gas drilling in the At­lantic Ocean.

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