By Sam Ori
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released the Trump Administration’s long-awaited offshore drilling proposal last week. Once enacted, the plan will replace the existing leasing schedule, which was designed by the previous administration and had been set to run through 2022. New administrations are free to scrap the hold-over plans of prior administrations, and anyone who followed the 2016 presidential campaign knew that President Trump had a dramatically different view of offshore energy development than his predecessor.
As it’s written, the new plan represents a radical departure from the past several decades of bipartisan consensus on the approach to developing oil and gas in federal waters, which has focused almost entirely on the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico. Covering the period 2019 to 2024, the new plan envisions 47 individual lease sales covering all tracts of the outer continental shelf (OCS) spanning the entire U.S. coastline. This would include lease sales, for example, in the Straits of Florida, between Florida and the Bahamas, and up and down the entire east and west coasts, including off the coasts of states that expressly oppose drilling off their shores. It would also include development off the entire coast of Alaska.
In short, it is the most aggressive plan put forward since the Reagan Administration, when the oil-price induced recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s led to an emphasis on developing domestic oil supplies. A plan put forward by President George W. Bush in the final days of his administration included a total of 31 sales after the lifting of long-standing congressional moratoria covering much of the West and East coasts, but it was never likely to be implemented. President Obama scrapped that plan following a lengthy process that was extended by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Yet, as aggressive as it is on paper, the new plan faces an uphill climb before it results in actual leasing in many of the new areas it covers.