Zinke to re­view 5-year ban on off­shore leases, as­pects of off­shore drilling

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day will be­gin to re­verse his pre­de­ces­sor’s lim­its on new off­shore drilling, po­ten­tially open­ing up vast new ar­eas in the Outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf for oil-and-gas ex­plo­ration.

White House of­fi­cials said Mr. Trump will sign an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke to re­view all as­pects of the nation’s off­shore drilling reg­u­la­tions.

As part of that re­view, Mr. Zinke will ex­am­ine Pres­i­dent Obama’s five-year ban on any new off­shore leases, which would have lasted through 2022, and will make rec­om­men­da­tions on whether to open up new ar­eas in the At­lantic, Pa­cific and Arc­tic oceans to drilling, as well as new wa­ters in the Gulf of Mex­ico.

The or­der also will tem­po­rar­ily pro­hibit the des­ig­na­tion of any new marine mon­u­ments off U.S. shores, end­ing an Obama-era prac­tice of us­ing the cen­tu­ry­old An­tiq­ui­ties Act to pro­tect wa­ters from drilling.

In jus­ti­fy­ing the new pol­icy — which came un­der im­me­di­ate, scathing at­tacks from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and Democrats on Capi­tol Hill — Mr. Zinke told re­porters Thurs­day night that fed­eral rev­enue from off­shore drilling has dropped from $18 bil­lion in 2008 to just $2.8 bil­lion in 2016.

Some of that drop can be at­trib­uted to drops in the price of oil, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues much of it is due to fed­eral reg­u­la­tion.

Mr. Zinke said there are both eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits to ex­pand­ing off­shore drilling, and he re­jected out­right the no­tion that the U.S. should curb en­ergy ex­plo­ration solely out of con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment.

“It is bet­ter to pro­duce en­ergy here un­der rea­son­able reg­u­la­tions than to have it be pro­duced over­seas with no reg­u­la­tions,” he said. “En­vi­ron­men­tally, I can tell you we have the high­est stan­dards in the world, and if you doubt that, I in­vite you to visit some of the en­ergy op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Mid­dle East and Africa, which are catas­tro­phes as far as the en­vi­ron­ment is con­cerned.”

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der does not im­me­di­ately open up new ar­eas for drilling, nor does it have any im­pact on ex­ist­ing oil-and-gas com­pany leases off of U.S. shores.

Still, the very idea of ex­pand­ing off­shore drilling ig­nited a firestorm among Trump crit­ics. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists pointed to past drilling dis­as­ters, such as the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico, to ar­gue that al­low­ing even more en­ergy ex­plo­ration is a fool­ish move.

“Seven years, al­most to the day, af­ter off­shore drilling caused the worst en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter in U.S. his­tory, Pres­i­dent Trump is tak­ing aim at ex­pand­ing this dirty and dan­ger­ous in­dus­try into new ar­eas like the At­lantic, Arc­tic and Pa­cific oceans, as well as the East­ern Gulf of Mex­ico. Let me be clear: that would be a huge, bad, stupid mis­take,” said Jac­que­line Savitz, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Oceana, a lead­ing con­ser­va­tion group. “I doubt Pres­i­dent Trump would want to see Mar-a-Lago, or any of his other coastal re­sorts, cov­ered in oil.”

Ahead of Fri­day’s of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment, a coali­tion of 27 Se­nate Democrats on Thurs­day wrote a let­ter to Mr. Zinke urg­ing him to scrap the plan. They said that cur­rent leas­ing plans will pro­vide more than enough fuel, and they charged that oil com­pa­nies are do­ing noth­ing with some of the leases they al­ready hold.

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