The Trump Administration’s five-year plan for offshore oil drilling will heighten spill risks for coastal areas in the US say the 64 signatories of a joint statement against the plan. Opposition to the plan is already beginning to mount – especially in American coastal communities.

The Trump administration’s Five-Year Plan for offshore oil and gas leasing was published on 4 January this year and was unveiled by US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. It would radically expand offshore drilling in new areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic and would also auction off permanently protected areas. However, opposition to the plan is beginning to ramp up, the latest move being from a coalition of 64 American environmental groups, companies and other organisations, who have signed a statement stating that the plan presents a huge risk to coastal economies, businesses and marine life in previously undeveloped waters. The signatories range from the Alaska Wilderness League to the California Coastkeeper Alliance to Environment America and the Wilderness Society, but communities are beginning to come out against it as well.

The statement, signed by representatives of 64 US conservation groups, says that the administration is ignoring sound science and public opinion and the proposed plans will inflict “severe and unacceptable harm” to US marine environments and coastal economies, public health. Furthermore, the plan aims to pursue dubious energy sources that the US doesn’t actually need.

In the current five-year plan, there are a range of protections that are based on scientific analysis and a multi-year comment process. However, Trump’s proposal is hastily constructed and rife with unsubstantiated claims and faulty economics. It runs roughshod over documented public opinion. The proposal would expose Arctic waters to drilling, present severe risks to the American Atlantic coast, open up the Pacific coast – which has not experienced Federal drilling for decades and further threaten the already debilitated Gulf of Mexico. It threatens to expose American coastal communities to risk from oil spills by coating beaches with oil. It threatens air pollution and the decimation of fisheries, as well as interfering with military training and keeping American citizens hostage to the whims of foreign oil markets.

“These ocean waters are not President Trump’s personal playground,” said the statement. “They belong to all Americans, and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies.
The Trump Administration’s plan to unleash the dangers of drilling offshore is a major, unacceptable risk to hundreds of local communities, their coastal economies, and marine life.”

Increasingly, America is demonstrating its ability to meet its energy needs through investment in clean, renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. This will cut pollution, cut greenhouse gas emissions and retain profits for American citizens, rather than lining the pockets of oil industry executives and foreign governments.

The following gives you some idea of what is at risk. According to market data published in 2007 by the National Ocean Economics Programme, American oceans generated $100 billion in tourist and recreational revenue in 2012, generating more than 2 million jobs. The South and Mid-Atlantic coasts supply more than $40 billion per year in revenue from ocean-related tourism, recreation and fishing, according to further National Ocean Economics Programme data published in 2012, while in that same year, the seafood industry in those regions supported more than 244,000 jobs with fisherman landing more than 850 million pounds of fish, earning more than $650 million. Ocean tourism and recreational industries accounted for 76 percent of all mid-Atlantic and 84 percent of all Southeast Atlantic Ocean sector jobs in 2012, according to a report from the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM).

Small leaks are endemic to the oil and gas sector, but major leaks, spills and disasters are catastrophic, the ultimate example, of course, being the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In addition to killing 11 oil and gas sector workers, injuring 17 others, the post-explosion impact of the disaster was one of the most damaging environmental disasters in US history. It affected more than 1,000 miles of coastline, and the full economic impacts of the disaster are still not yet completely known. However, we do know that the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico lost an estimated $247 million as a result of fisheries closures, and that lost tourism dollars were estimated in the region of $22.7 billion.

Then there’s the cost. It’s not just the processes themselves that drive up costs, it’s also various other support requirements, such as the necessity to ‘police’ drilling activities and enabling access to drilling sites. This is true even without the impacts of any minor or major oil spills or other disasters. The experience of the US Coastguard in 2015 with regard to Shell Oil Corporation clearly demonstrates this. For example, the construction of just one US Coastguard heavy icebreaker comes with a taxpayer bill approaching $1 billion. Even just one deep draft port along the Alaskan northwest coast, required to service these vessels, would cost $200 million. The costs of providing access to sites are indicated by the example of the proposed construction of a 500-mile road by Governor Sean Parnell, which would have cost $2.5 billion for construction and $40 million per year for maintenance and resurfacing.

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As Frank Matzner, writing for the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) in 2015, describes, the standard tactic of big oil, led by notorious mega-corporations such as Exxon, is to continually present its myth of “perpetual reliance.” Exxon, for example, continues to claim that oil resources will serve US energy demand for the next 80 years. This completely ignores the finding by the International Energy Agency that renewable energy can meet 40 percent of America’s demand. Exxon continues to lobby for expansion of existing oil reserves and infrastructure, aiming to increase the company’s asset base and lock-in future oil production. This entails the process of investing in carbon-intensive technologies and development strategies so that it is much more difficult to transition to clean energy and reduce climate risks. The prime example of this kind of activity is near-term investments in coal plants, exactly the kind of outdated, dirty, fossil fuel technology that Trump favours and which helped him gain power initially. Furthermore, denying, or at least sowing doubt about, climate change, is a necessity for this kind of activity to be able to survive, and Exxon, in particular, has been adept at doing just that.

(Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Response, Damage Assessment & Restoration, Environmental Response Management Application)


President Obama reflected the will of the American people and many American businesses when he acted to permanently protect most of the Arctic Ocean. Appeals to Obama by prominent business leaders in the US clean energy sector also moved him to act on this. Furthermore, Obama removed the entire Arctic and Atlantic from the five-year leasing plan. According to the group, the opposition to Trump’s revived plan includes tens of thousands of local businesses and hundreds of thousands of commercial fishing families, the majority of Americans living in over 130 coastal communities, many Alaskan citizens, policymakers at local, state and federal levels and a huge number of faith leaders and conservation groups. It’s unlikely therefore that controversy about this issue will recede, if anything, it’s likely to increase.

That has become especially true since 10th January when Florida was given an exemption from the plan. Predictably, other states with coastal communities began to call for exemptions also, especially considering that Florida’s exemption was granted on the basis that offshore drilling would cripple its tourism industry. Well, isn’t that also true of other states? Zinke’s claim that “Florida is clearly unique” is characteristic of the woeful lack of thought and lack of acceptance of expert opinion that has dogged the administration so far, resulting in Trump’s support base plunging to 39 percent.

A tidal wave of national and local opposition to the plan is about to burst. Listening sessions are now taking place in numerous communities, the first took place on 16th January, followed by Richmond, Virginia, on the 17th and Dover, Delaware on the 18th. Others are planned running well into February, and more may be added still, after that.

It’s blatantly clear that this offshore drilling plan of Trump’s is totally crazy, in terms of its potential to cause massive environmental damage, but also considering the increasingly obvious fact that renewable energy, not fossil fuels, is winning the game in terms of the economics, with some pretty momentous cost-reductions over recent years for wind and solar in particular.

Given all that, it’s pretty fair to say that Trump’s popularity, bad as it is already, has only one direction in which to run if the administration drives through this plan – and that’s downwards!🔷

The full alphabetical list of the 64 signers of the joint statement:

Alaska Wilderness League, Alliance for Climate Education, America Verde, American Littoral Society, Americans for Conservation & the Arts, Azul, Blue Frontier, Bold Alliance, California Coastkeeper Alliance, California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological Diversity, Checks & Balances Project, Clean Ocean Action, Clean Water Action, Climate Hawks Vote, The Climate Reality Project, Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Conservation Law Foundation, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, Corazon Latino, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environment California, Environment New Jersey, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Florida Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Gasp, Green Latinos, Greenpeace, Gulf Restoration Network, Hands Across the Sand, Hip Hop Caucus, Inland Ocean Coalition, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, Latino Farmers and Ranchers, League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters of the United States, Marine Conservation Institute, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Massachusetts League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, New York League of Conservation Voters, NextGen America, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, Oceana, Oil Change International, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, The Power Shift Network, Sachamama, Save Our Shores, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Vermont Conservation Voters, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Voces Verdes, Washington Conservation Voters, Washington Environmental Council, and The Wilderness Society.

Embed from Getty Images

(Cover: Flickr / Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement BSEE - The drillship Noble Globetrotter I has been used by Shell Offshore Inc. at several sites in the Gulf of Mexico.)



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Freelance journalist with special interests in renewable energy, climate change, environmental issues and social justice, with a variety of other interests besides (e.g. transport).

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