The recent announcement from the Trump administration that it wants to open nearly all U.S. oceans to oil and gas drilling is certainly concerning. But there is not reason to panic, yet.
The announcement, from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is no surprise as the Trump administration is focused on undoing every action taken by former President Barack Obama. And the administration is a big friend of the oil, gas and coal industries. It is rolling back environmental regulations and protections of federal lands in the name of “energy dominance.”
Just as the Obama administration policy of disallowing drilling in 94 percent of American coastal waters was too broad, so too is the Trump administration’s move to allow drilling in all these waters. But the Obama administration kept the drilling ban in place in an abundance of caution; Trump wants to reverse it to score political points.
Zinke stressed that the plan released last week is a draft and that changes will be made. How changes will be made and who the administration will listen to are major concerns. Already, the administration has backtracked and said there won’t be drilling off the coast of Florida, after the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, objected to drilling there.
“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice,” Zinke said in a statement after a quick visit to the Tallahassee airport to meet with Scott. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coast is heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
The immediate response from other coastal state governors, including many Republicans: What about us? Our states are unique and our coasts are heavily reliant on tourism.
There’s no word from the Trump administration about accommodating other states that want to keep their coastal waters off limits to drilling. This led to speculation that Florida was exempted because Trump owns coastal property or maybe the administration was trying to bolster Scott, who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate. Some states are already threatening lawsuits if they aren’t also exempted from the new policy.
Gov. Paul LePage wasn’t among coastal state governors seeking an exemption from drilling. He is the only East Coast governor to support offshore drilling. The state’s entire congressional delegation, on the other hand, opposed the move.
“It would endanger our marine resources, our fishing industry, our way of life, our tourism industry,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican.
“The cost of any incident to our coastal industry, whether it is fisheries or recreation, would far outweigh any benefits to the state of Maine or to the country,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent.
The political wrangling aside, the real reasons that oil rigs likely won’t pop up all along U.S. coasts any time soon are economic. Offshore drilling is really expensive. The average offshore rig costs $650 million. As oil prices have dropped, oil companies are looking for ways to cut costs. As a result, they are shifting exploration and production away from expensive offshore projects to those onshore. They are drilling new wells and perfecting ways to extract more oil and gas from existing onshore wells, where production is increasing.
By 2020, Chevron, the nation’s second largest oil company, expects to more than double production from just West Texas alone. ConocoPhillips said it expected to end deepwater exploration last year and will sell offshore leases where it does not plan to drill.
Still, the move to allow more offshore drilling is a step backward. Demand for petroleum in the U.S. has stagnated. Car makers are increasingly moving toward electric vehicles. The costs of solar energy are plummeting.
This would be a perfect time for the president to champion a cleaner energy future for the country, one that reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and costs. Instead, the Trump administration is playing games with offshore drilling.