President Trump’s offshore oil plan promises jobs, provokes California protest

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President Donald Trump has doubled down on his call for greater U.S. fossil fuel production, setting the stage Friday for expanded offshore oil drilling and potentially rolling back the North Coast’s sole defense against the prospect of oil rigs dotting the scenic shoreline.

The 30th executive order signed by the president in his first 99 days in office called for leasing of oil drilling tracts “to the maximum extent permitted by law,” accompanied by Trump’s verbal pledge that it would create thousands of high-paying jobs and make the nation more secure.

“This is a great day for American workers and families,” Trump said at a White House ceremony.

Veterans of the decadeslong push to ban oil drilling on California coast, however, said the order amounted to the clearest threat of new drilling since Congress banned new offshore extraction in 1982.

The state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, blasted Trump’s action. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the order “reckless and unnecessary.”

“It’s frightening that something we thought was secure and safe could be undone,” said Lynn Woolsey, the former North Coast congresswoman from Petaluma who worked for expansion of two national marine sanctuaries for most of her 20-year career on the Hill. She saw it finally accomplished three years after she retired in 2012.

The expansion, enacted by former President Barack Obama, doubled the size of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries, moving their reach — and prohibition against oil drilling — 60 miles north from Bodega Head to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

The adjacent Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary extends south to Cambria in San Luis Obispo County.

“This issue was settled,” Feinstein said in her sharply worded statement. “Coastal communities made it clear they don’t want offshore drilling. The president’s executive order ignores those concerns and the real threat of climate change to give oil and gas companies access to new areas that they do not need.”

Trump’s order instructs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to review all marine sanctuary expansions in the past 10 years, a step environmentalists and public officials fear could be a precursor to rescinding them or shrinking their size. It precludes designation of any new sanctuary without a “full accounting” of the area’s energy or mineral resource potential.

The “American-First Offshore Energy Strategy” unveiled Friday also requires Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the government’s five-year oil and natural gas drilling plan, potentially rewriting the Obama plan, finalized in November, that limited oil and gas development from 2017 to 2022 to the Gulf of Mexico and a small Alaskan inlet.

Drilling foes hailed that Obama-era plan, while the oil industry chafed under the prohibition against drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

No new oil leases in California waters have been sold to oil companies since 1984, owing to bipartisan opposition to oil drilling in the wake of the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.

There are, however, 23 oil and gas platforms operating off the Southern California coast that produced about 6 million barrels of oil and 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas last year.

Now, environmentalists contend the oil industry is at home in the Trump administration and intent on turning the tables.

“They don’t like anything that takes areas of the ocean or land off limits for fossil fuel extraction,” said North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who succeeded Woolsey in 2009. “Nothing really surprises me with these folks.”

Nothing will change soon, Huffman and others say, because of the time it would take to draft a new five-year drilling plan, compounded by the inevitable legal battle that could outlast the Trump administration.

And with crude oil hovering around $50 a barrel, experts say oil companies are unlikely to undertake initiatives in new areas like Northern California, where there are no onshore facilities.

Obama’s five-year drilling plan made more than 45 billion barrels of oil available for drilling, according to 27 Democratic senators, including Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris, who urged Zinke not to expand the drilling plan.

Huffman, who met Zinke along with other members of the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, said he came away somewhat relieved about the future of the North Coast sanctuaries.

Huffman said he “got the impression” from Zinke, a former Montana congressman, that sanctuaries supported by the public “don’t have anything to worry about.”

But other parts of the California coast “are in jeopardy,” Huffman said, adding that Zinke cited the Channel Islands area as a likely target for renewed oil development.

The administration’s intent is not spelled out in the executive order, Huffman said.

“We don’t have a lot of detail yet. We just have some red flags,” he said.

Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s, described the plan as “an anti-environment campaign out of the White House with no respect for America’s natural treasures.”

Charter said he found it ironic, asserting that marine sanctuaries have been shown to create jobs and economic activity in places like Michigan, where the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was expanded in 2014, making it a candidate for the administration’s review.

Not since 1982, when a congressional moratorium on new wells was established and followed by Obama’s removal of California from the federal drilling plan, has the state coast — and its $40 billion contribution to the economy — faced such an imminent threat, Charter said.

North of Point Arena, where the sanctuaries end, there are more than 2 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil, according to government estimates.

California officials are trying to erect obstacles to a Trump-inspired oil drilling revival.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said Friday she will introduce legislation barring the State Lands Commission from approving pipelines, piers, terminals and other offshore oil-serving facilities.

“Why should we go back to the dirty, dangerous and destructive policies of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s?” Jackson said during a media call. “For the sake of our environment, economy and quality of life, the door Trump wants to open to more oil and gas drilling must be closed shut.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, chairman of the lands commission, said the agency would “create an environmental rampart” along the coast. Gov. Brown, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington, called Trump’s order “short-sighted” in a statement Friday.

“Now is not the time to turn back the clock,” the governors said. “We cannot return to the days where the federal government put the interests of Big Oil above our communities and treasured coastline.”

Woolsey, a Petaluma resident, said an attempt by the Trump administration to rescind coastal protections would provoke an uproar.

“I hope they don’t,” she said, “but if they do, they will hear an outcry from California from south to north.”

This story contains information from the Mercury News and Sacramento Bee. You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or

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