Administration hits the brakes on proposal to expand offshore drilling in Atlantic

April 25, 2019, 3:04 p.m.
Huntington Beach, Sunset over the oil rig, 2014
Photo: Pete Markham/Flickr

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal that the administration's plans to expand drilling operations in the Atlantic Ocean are on hold while they appeal a March case that rolled back similar plans in the Arctic.

A federal judge's ruling in Alaska in March was the latest in a ping-pong match of decrees. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason reinstated Obama-era restrictions on drilling, and by doing do, negated President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order to overturn those restrictions.

For now, the Interior Department will wait to see how that March 31 decision plays out.

An offshore drilling map released in January 2018 would have opened up vast stretches of water for oil and gas drilling. It was just in the proposal stage — but it generated buzz nonetheless.

Then Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019 to 2024 in that month. The draft proposal would have opened more than 90 percent of U.S. oceans for leasing by oil and gas companies.

The proposal came barely a week after the Trump administration had announced plans to rewrite or eliminate safety rules and regulations for offshore drilling put in place following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

"We're embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America, particularly on offshore," Zinke said as he announced the plan. "This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance. We are going to become the strongest energy superpower."

The proposal would have opened the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to drilling and increased opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. The only area not included in the leasing plan was Alaska's North Aleutian Basin.

The draft was the result of Trump's April 2017 executive order that tasked Zinke with reviewing and overhauling the Obama administration's final five-year proposal for offshore drilling. That plan included a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic.

The National Ocean Industries Association praised the proposal, commending it for offering the "broadest possible acreage for potential inclusion in our nation's next offshore leasing program."

But 64 groups denounced the proposal in a joint statement, saying, "The proposal would expose the Arctic waters — our last undeveloped ocean — to drilling, put the Atlantic coast on the chopping block for the first time since 1983, open the Pacific Coast — which has not seen federal drilling for decades, and further threaten the debilitated Gulf of Mexico."

A few coastal states' governors, including Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott, immediately declared their opposition to the proposal:

And just five days after Zinke's original announcement, Florida earned an exemption from offshore drilling. Zinke commented on the decision via Twitter, saying the president cares about "the local and state voice."

The original proposal came barely a week after the Trump administration announced plans to rewrite or eliminate safety rules and regulations for offshore drilling put in place following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Editor's note: This file has been updated since it was published in January 2018.