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Reviving coal was a campaign promise that President Trump prioritized in the first year of his administration, but oil and natural gas have become increasingly important. To start off the new year, the Department of the Interior, led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, announced “the next step for responsibly developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.”
Also known as the National OCS Program, this initiative will promote oil and gas exploration on our nation’s coasts from 2019-2024. It proposes “to make over 90 percent of the total OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.” The areas designated for exploration include much of the oil-rich and oil rig-saturated Gulf Coast of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean near Alaska. But most surprisingly is the amount of ocean in which oil exploration has been allowed. According to the Washington Post, “only one of 26 planning areas in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean would be off limits to oil and gas exploration.”
Undoubtedly, the Southeast United States will see an increase in oil exploration. However, some states have asked, and in the case of Florida, have been successfully granted an exemption for their state’s coastlines by Secretary Zinke. His Jan. 9 verbal exemption–“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott’s and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms”–is contentious, though, as the secretary’s limits of power is questioned. Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, has said that Zinke’s exemption “is not a formal action.”
Nonetheless, a great deal of controversy has transpired in the past few weeks as the narrative is that states that voted for President Trump in 2016 election, and states with Republicans majority legislature at the state-level, like Florida, have received preferential treatment from the Trump administration. North Carolina has requested an exemption from the Department of Interior policy. The Department of Interior has not yet made a decision in regard to North Carolina’s request for exemption at the time of publishing.
The environmental implications of increased offshore drilling are unknown. Fear of another oil spill and the environmental destruction and economic disruption they bring are on the minds of many Americans and policy makers. In an era of strict bipartisanship, Florida seems to be united on the issue of offshore drilling, summed up by Representative Darren Soto (D-Fla.).
“Floridians have spoken loud and clear; we cannot allow another oil spill to destroy our state’s way of life,” said Soto, according to The Hill. Several other states will seek a similar exemption to that of Florida’s, putting increasing pressure on the Department of Interior to commit to a universal policy. Without doing so, it runs the risk of playing favorites by granting selective exemptions, or mitigating the effectiveness of finding the “98 percent of undiscovered…oil and gas” by granting far too many exemptions.