Oil in the News

President Donald Trump and New Offshore Drilling

Written By: Meaghan Anderson

The start of 2018 came with a significant announcement from the White House concerning offshore drilling. On January 4, the Trump administration moved to begin implementation of a 5-year plan that would open 47 new offshore leases spread along virtually the entire American coastline[1]. These include several leases off the coast of Alaska, where President Obama banned drilling in 2016 due to growing environmental concerns. President Trump has made it clear from the start of his presidency that offshore drilling was an important issue for him to make progress in, but, not surprisingly, this new plan has been met with little support from numerous coastal states. According to The Washington Post, only Maine and Alaska are currently in support of reopening their previously off-limits coasts to new leases[2].

Less than a week later, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made the decision to exempt the leases along the coast of Florida due to strong objections from Governor Rick Scott concerning the state’s economic dependence on tourism. However, this decision is riding only on the belief that Secretary Zinke can keep his word, and there are still several steps that must be taken before Florida will be officially exempt. This action sparked even more frustration among affected coastal states. Governors from South Carolina, New York, and California, along with several others, both Republican and Democrat, are now asking what made Secretary Zinke decide to exclude only Florida from this new drilling plan[3]. Why are their requests to be excluded not being honored as well? The Washington Post has also reported that if states’ requests to be exempted from the plan are not considered equally, it could result in serious legal allegations[4].

Another issue that will drastically affect implementation is federal ownership versus state ownership of coastal waters. Although the United States has not ratified the treaty established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), federal ownership of offshore zones reflects most of the designations made during the convention. According to the UNCLOS, a coastal nation has claim to 200 nautical miles from its coast or to the edge of the geological continental shelf with a limit of 350 nautical miles. However, the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 (SLA) gives states ownership of the area 3 nautical miles from the designated state coast with the exception of 9 nautical for Florida and Texas (honors previous state constitutions and laws that were in place before the states joined the Union or successful petitions made to Congress)[5]. Not only does this allow states the power to deny leasing within this area, but more importantly, it also grants state the ability to prevent construction of vital offshore pipelines, often the most economic means of transporting produced oil and gas back to land[6].

If the plan is able to make it past the public comment period and required environmental review, this could mean abundant new opportunities for future offshore developments. In fact, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated 21 million barrels of economically recoverable oil is contained in the potential leases[7]. But, the debate seen in the first few weeks alone proves this will not be an easy plan to bring into fruition.

1) Schneider, Keith, and Tony Barboza. “California Offshore Drilling Could Be Expanded for the First Time since 1984 under Federal Leasing Proposal.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 4 Jan. 2018, www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-offshore-drilling-20180104-story.html.

2) Daly, Matthew. “Trump Moves to Vastly Expand Offshore Drilling.” The Washington Post, AP, 4 Jan. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-moves-to-vastly-expand-offshore-drilling/2018/01/04/20727b60-f17a-11e7-95e3-eff284e71c8d_story.html?utm_term=.71adf5d5bb05.

3) Friedman, Lisa. “Trump Moves to Open Nearly All Offshore Waters to Drilling.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/climate/trump-offshore-drilling.html.

4) Weigel, David, et al. “Decision to Exempt Florida from Offshore Drilling Prompts Bipartisan Uproar.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Jan. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/decision-to-exempt-florida-from-offshore-drilling-prompts-bipartisan-uproar/2018/01/10/1f5befa4-f625-11e7-beb6-c8d48830c54d_story.html?utm_term=.45cfb1710bfd.

5) Vann, Adam. “Offshore Oil and Gas Development: Legal Framework .” Congressional Research Service, 26 Sept. 2014.

6) Boxall, Bettina, and Tony Barboza. “Trump’s Plan to Open California Coastal Waters to New Oil and Gas Drilling Probably Won’t Go Very Far.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 2018, www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-california-offshore-drilling-20180106-story.html.

7) Tabuchi, Hiroko, and Tim Wallace. “Trump Would Open Nearly All U.S. Waters to Drilling. But Will They Drill?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/23/climate/trump-offshore-oil-drilling.html.


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