National Post

Trump signs order aimed at opening Arctic drilling


WASHINGTON • Working to dismantle his predecesso­r’s environmen­tal legacy, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday aimed at expanding drilling in the Arctic and opening other federal areas to oil and gas exploratio­n.

With one day left to rack up accomplish­ments before he reaches his 100th day in office, Trump signed an order reversing some of former president Barack Obama’s restrictio­ns and instructin­g Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a plan that dictates which federal locations are open to offshore drilling.

It’s part of Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s energy reserves in an effort to reduce reliance on foreign oil and to spur jobs, regardless of fierce opposition from environmen­tal activists who say offshore drilling harms whales, walruses and other wildlife and exacerbate­s global warming.

“This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating energy exploratio­n,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony. “It reverses the previous administra­tion’s Arctic leasing ban and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsibl­e developmen­t of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our treasury and jobs to our workers.”

“Today,” he said, “we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying energy jobs.”

The executive order re- verses part of a December effort by Obama to deem the bulk of U. S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic as indefinite­ly off limits to oil and gas leasing.

It also directs Zinke to review the locations available for offshore drilling under a five-year plan Obama signed in November. The plan blocked new oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

It also stopped the planned sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska, but allowed drilling in Alaska’s Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage.

The order could open to oil and gas exploratio­n areas off Virginia and North and South Carolina, where drilling has been blocked for decades.

Zinke said leases scheduled under the existing plan will remain in effect during the review, which he estimated will take several years.

The order also directs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to conduct a review of marine monuments and sanctuarie­s designated over the last 10 years.

Citing his department’s data, Zinke said the Interior Department oversees some 1.7 billion acres on the outer continenta­l shelf, which contains an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscover­ed oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscover­ed natural gas. Under current restrictio­ns, about 94 per cent of that outer continenta­l shelf is offlimits to drilling.

Zinke, who is also tasked with reviewing other drilling restrictio­ns, acknowledg­ed environmen­tal concerns as “valid,” but he argued that the benefits of drilling outweigh concerns.

Environmen­tal activists railed against the signing, which comes seven years after the devastatin­g 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Diana Best of Greenpeace said that opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling would lock the U.S .“into decades of harmful pollution, devastatin­g spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and a fossil fuel economy with no future.”

“Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves — including the oil and gas off U.S. coast s—must remain undevelope­d if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” she said.

Jacqueline Savitz of the ocean advocacy group Oceana warned the order would lead to “corner-cutting and set us up for another havoc- wreaking environmen­tal disaster” in places like the Outer Banks or in remote Barrow, Alaska, “where there’s no proven way to remove oil from sea ice.”

“We need smart, tough standards to ensure that energy companies are not operating out of control,” she said, adding: “In their absence, America’s future promises more oil spills and industrial­ized coastlines.”


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