BATON ROUGE (CN) – Federal regulators Tuesday held one of the final meetings intended to explain President Donald Trump’s plan to dramatically expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Public comment on the proposed leases, in a territory that has been expanded tremendously in comparison with recent years, ends Friday.
In an executive order signed in April 2017, President Trump effectively opened every available undeveloped offshore site to energy exploration. Officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other agencies Tuesday stressed that not all areas are oil and mineral rich, the department can choose not to lease proposed areas in the end, and that the Interior Department is concurrently opening offshore exploration opportunities to renewable energy sources.
Despite that the largest offshore oil lease sale ever for exploration off the Gulf of Mexico is scheduled to take place at the end of this month, BOEM officials at Tuesday’s meeting spoke tentatively about the Trump Administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling, and stressed that while all regions are currently open for sale, that could all change.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in January released a draft offshore drilling plan that proposed to expand offshore drilling in nearly all of the waters off the United States.
Simultaneous to release of that plan was news that the administration is rolling back offshore protections that were enacted to tighten safety measures following the 2010 BP oil spill.
Referring to recent reports that the administration plans to do away with specific protections such as the “well-control rule,” local opponents to offshore drilling said Tuesday it is time to stop offshore oil leasing all together.
“Rolling back vital safety measures while expanding offshore leasing is a recipe for a disaster. The oil and gas industry has shown time and time again that it is unwilling or unable to prevent spills and accidents here in the Gulf and now the Trump administration is putting even more communities at risk,” said Raleigh Hoke, campaign director with Gulf Restoration Network. “It’s time to end all new offshore leasing in the Gulf and beyond.”
Representatives from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Tuesday were adamant the administration had no plans to roll back regulations.
Karla Marshall, one of the BSEE representatives providing information at the meeting, said regulations were being reviewed and that as a guideline, she and her colleagues followed the general rule that “you can reduce anything that is overly burdensome, but you cannot reduce anything that influences safety.”
But environmental advocates point to that even without deregulating safety measures, offshore drilling wrecks havoc on the environment and is unsafe.
A map and report put out by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade show that in 2016 there were 479 reported offshore accidents in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, and a reported release of 883,363 gallons of oil.
“We are standing up today and saying no to offshore drilling, just as the state of Florida has done, just as elected officials along the East Coast and Pacific Coast have done, “ said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Our Congressional delegation are showing themselves to be among the most ignorant in the nation and it’s just embarrassing. Every other region of the country is fighting back against this bad idea, and for good reason. Our state is choking on pollution and sinking from climate change.”
Louisiana is among the Gulf States that is most involved in submitting feedback about offshore leasing and drilling, Tershara Matthews, a representative from BOEM said Tuesday.
Still, Matthews was skeptical officials and residents from the state would oppose drilling adamantly enough to stop it. After all, the fact that so much infrastructure already exists in the Gulf makes it attractive for offshore exploration and production.
“For too long, the Gulf has been treated as a sacrifice zone for offshore drilling, and Louisiana communities are all too familiar with the costs,” Margie Vicknair-Pray, conservation program coordinator with the Sierra Club Delta Chapter said in a released statement Tuesday. “We’re here to tell the Trump administration: no new leases off Louisiana’s coast.”
Representatives from BOEM Tuesday pointed to the opportunity for offshore companies to take out leases for the production of renewable energy.
Ross Del Rio, a BOEM representative at the meeting said that companies off the east coast have already expressed interest in at least 13 leases for renewable energy.
Del Rio said that development for renewable energy will follow the same schedule as for drilling: environmental assessments would first have to take place.
The Gulf Restoration Network ‘s Hoke said looking toward renewables is a worthy step, but he cautioned that it would have to be done responsibly.
“It could be challenging to directly convert platforms from oil and gas to wind or solar, but many of the workers and companies that are now primarily focused on working offshore on oil and gas could translate their skills and expertise to wind or other renewable energy projects,” Hoke said in an email Wednesday.
“Gulf-based companies are also already involved in building components for wind energy projects in other parts of the country,” he continued. “It seems clear that the Gulf region has untapped potential when it comes wind energy and other renewable sources of energy. That said, decisions about renewable projects offshore must include a full and fair analysis of all of the environmental impact, including potential impacts to the ocean bottom, migrating birds, and other natural resources.”
Rolfes, of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in an email Wednesday “It’s ironic that a state so vulnerable to climate change would continue to pursue fossil fuels. It’s just stupid.”
“Louisiana should be pursing renewable energy and one of the tragedies of our mindless pursuit of oil is the opportunity cost. We are building pipelines when we should be building wind farms and solar panel factories. Other states recognize that renewables are among the fastest growing job sectors in the country. Louisiana should recognize it, too.”