President Trump’s move to expand offshore oil drilling sparks protest from environmentalists, politicians
President Donald Trump’s move to make good on campaign promises to boost the energy industry drew protests Thursday from environmentalists and public officials over his anticipated bid to allow new offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans, including California’s North Coast.
The president’s executive order, expected Friday, will call for a review of the government’s five-year oil and natural gas drilling plan, potentially reversing protections set by former President Barack Obama and challenging California’s four decades of nearly unanimous opposition to oil drilling.
The abrupt turnabout on a cornerstone energy policy will set off a legal and political battle that could stall any new energy development for years, experts said.
But the prospect triggered concern from coast to coast and even in Sonoma County, where the ocean is protected by a marine sanctuary that prohibits oil exploration.
“This is the first time in 35 years that California has been a target for offshore drilling,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-drilling advocate.
A congressional moratorium established in 1982 prevented new oil wells on the California coast. After the moratorium was suspended in 2009, Obama removed California from the federal oil drilling plan that Trump now seeks to expand.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who would handle the review, told reporters Tuesday the federal government would “look at everything.”
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order directing Zinke to review the creation of 24 national monuments designated by previous presidents with an eye toward opening the protected lands to drilling, mining and logging.
Zinke will be the featured speaker Monday at a conference in Houston, Texas, on the importance of the harnessing the nation’s offshore energy resources.
The calamitous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 fixed California on a course against offshore oil, backed by all seven governors since then. It has evolved into a campaign to protect the state’s $40 billion-a-year coastal economy.
Marine sanctuaries protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena, but there are four potential drilling targets farther north in Mendocino County, Charter said. A spill in that area would likely foul the Sonoma Coast, he said.
“The threat to the North Coast is imminent and real,” said Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation. “This is like a nightmare coming into focus.”
Given freedom to pursue drilling on the California coast, the oil industry’s first target would be the Santa Barbara Channel and the second would be the Mendocino and Humboldt coasts, Charter predicted. The area from Point Arena to the Oregon border holds more than 2 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil, according to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“We’ve been advocating for expanded access to domestic energy resources for years,” Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and natural gas trade association, told The Hill, a political website.
A spokeswoman for the Western States Petroleum Association declined to comment on the administration’s plans.
“This is really a member issue more than an association one,” Kara Siepmann said in an email.
Politicians from Washington to Sacramento weighed in Wednesday.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris joined 25 other Senate Democrats in signing a letter to Zinke urging him not to remove the protection for the three oceans.