President Trump reverses an Obama-era 5-year plan, restricting the leasing of Arctic and Atlantic waters to companies for drilling.
President Trump reverses an Obama-era 5-year plan, restricting the leasing of Arctic and Atlantic waters to companies for drilling.

The Trump administration is seeking to overturn an Obama-era order prohibiting oil and gas drilling across vast sections of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, specifically those close to Alaska and the north-east coast.

The President hopes to make most of the United States’ outer continental shelf available for lease to outside companies, which is part of a broader strategy aimed to create thousands of jobs and raise the country’s level of influence in global energy production.

“Our country has a massive energy economy, and we should absolutely wear it on our sleeves, rather than keep energy resources in the ground,” said Vincent DeVito, the Interior Department’s counselor for energy policy, speaking to reporters at the White House. “This work will encourage responsible energy exploration and production, in order to advance the United States’ position as a global energy force and foster security for the benefit of the American citizenry.”

But industry experts and companies alike are skeptical of the move due to increasing levels of production of oil and natural gas on land and the high upfront costs associated with offshore drilling. Analysts say most companies refuse to invest in offshore drilling equipment when barrel prices are under $85, which is almost double what the current price-per-barrel rate is.

Past and present versions of rulings are divisive

Just one month before leaving the White House, Obama pushed forward the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which sought to protect huge portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic, just off the Alaskan coast. The act also protects an array of canyon formations in the Atlantic, extending north from the Virginia to Massachusetts. It protects 125 million acres of sea floor in the Arctic and 4 million acres of the continental shelf in the Atlantic, according to White House data provided by the Washington Post.

“These actions…protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” the White House said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that…risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

At the time of its passing, the drilling ban was lauded by environmental groups because of its focus on land and wildlife conservation. Both the Arctic and eastern-coastal Atlantic regions are particularly biodiverse and would be devastated by a large oil spill.

But the move was also loathed by those in the energy industry.

“The administration’s decision to remove key Arctic and Atlantic offshore areas from future leasing consideration ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities for our shipyards, unions, and businesses of all types across the country,” said Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s Upstream director to the Washington Post.

The Obama administration stated that Arctic drilling only accounted for one-tenth of a percent of the nation’s oil output. The Royal Shell Company was the last to drill in the region in 2015, but it pulled out of a $7 billion project after only turning up small, non-commercially viable amounts of oil.

Trump administration believes offshore drilling is a key to economic prosperity

Although there is hesitancy for companies to venture seaward in search of oil, President Trump believes leasing the land could lead the country into a “golden era of American energy”.

“Finally, in order to unlock more energy from the 94 percent of offshore land closed to development, under the previous administration, so much of our land was closed to development.  We’re opening it up…America will be allowed to access the vast energy wealth located right off our shores,” the President said in a White House speech on June 29th. “We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.”

DeVito said opening the outer continental shelf to oil production could create 300,000 jobs.

But the new plan has been met with some opposition, coming from within the government itself. The Department of Defense rejects plans to drill off the US coast because it would impede the agency’s ability to conduct training exercises near bases and in staging areas in those waters.

President Trump’s revised 5-year plan is not slated to actually take effect until 2019, with multiple “decision points” and opportunities for public comment to occur before that time.

The 45-day comment period opened on July 3rd and will close on August 17th.