The Trump administration unveiled a plan Thursday to open vast new stretches of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, erasing the policies put in place by previous Democratic and Republican administrations and setting up a conflict with state governments fearful about the risk of spills.
It would allow Interior to offer for lease federal waters in the Arctic, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, even as the department proposes to loosen offshore drilling safety regulations put in place after the massive 2010 BP oil spill.
The department has already taken some steps to open some formerly closed areas, proposing earlier Thursday to make available seismic survey data for the waters off Hawaii that would be useful for oil and gas companies looking to explore the area.
Tourism in Gulf Coast states took years to recover from the 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 people and spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the water, ultimately costing the oil company more than $40 billion in fines and clean-up.
The waters off California haven’t been offered for drilling to companies in decades, and the region remains wary of new projects since the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara that was the worst in the country’s history until the Exxon Valdez spill two decades later.
“This political decision to open the magnificent and beautiful Pacific Coast waters to oil and gas drilling flies in the face of decades of strong opposition on the part of Oregon, Washington and California – from Republicans and Democrats alike,” he said in a statement.
In August 2017, a lease sale for the areas of the Gulf of Mexico already open for drilling drew just $121 million for 508,096 acres, a far cry from the result in March 2013 before oil prices crashed when companies bid $1.2 billion for 1.7 million acres just in the central Gulf region.