Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 27, 2017

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,  

Trump Order Could Open Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific to Offshore Oil Drilling

Unprecedented Act Threatens Coastal Communities, Wildlife, Climate

WASHINGTON— President Trump today announced plans to order the government to review the Obama administration's ban on offshore drilling across thousands of square miles in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

The order — which could also open the Pacific coast to new drilling — could lead to dramatically increased risks of oil spills, damage to oceans and wildlife, and a worsening of the climate crisis.

“It's as if Trump doesn't care at all about oil spills, whales or global warming. Oh yeah, he doesn't, and that's pretty clear from this order,” said Kristen Monsell at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This reckless giveaway to the oil industry could wreak havoc in the pristine waters of the Arctic and the rich oceans off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But we're ready to battle this dangerous plan in court.”

On Dec. 20 President Obama permanently removed most of the Arctic and key parts of the Atlantic from the federal fossil fuel leasing program using his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

The action protected about 115 million acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and almost 4 million acres of undersea canyons in the Atlantic, from Massachusetts to Virginia. The Cook Inlet and waters near existing projects on Alaska's North Slope remain available for risky oil leasing.

Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act has been used by presidents of both parties, starting with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to protect sensitive marine habitats from oil drilling.

The 2017-2022 offshore oil and gas leasing draft plan initially included 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, and one lease sale each in Cook Inlet, the Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. The final plan only included the lease sales in the Gulf and Cook Inlet. The Arctic and Atlantic were removed from the final plan due to the significant risks to sensitive areas, widespread public opposition, and conflicts with military use. The Pacific Ocean was not included in either the draft or final plan.

But Trump's order means that officials could try to include any of these waters in a new, revised plan. Oil companies have previously expressed interest in drilling federal waters in the Arctic, the Atlantic, and near Malibu and Orange and Humboldt counties off California.

“Protecting the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific from new drilling was an important action that we'll vigorously defend. This is still a nation of laws, and there are limits to Trump's power,” Monsell said. “Scientific facts and public opinion both support climate action and placing limits on dangerous offshore oil drilling, particularly in the treacherous Arctic and along the heavily populated East and West coasts.”

Trump's order also requires a review of rules developed after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy that seek to improve the safety of offshore drilling operations. One rule requires exploratory drilling operations from floating rigs in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to use improved blowout preventers and have capping stacks and containment domes on site. The rule also requires the presence of a second drilling rig that could bore a relief well if other containment measures fail, as happened with Deepwater Horizon.

“Rolling back these safety rules will only increase our determination to fight new offshore oil drilling,” Monsell said. “We will take to the courts and the streets. The stakes were already high, and Trump just raised them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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