Trump’s Offshore Energy Opening

No other developed nation has comparable offshore drilling limits.

 By The Editorial Board

The United States sits on more than a decade’s worth of oil and natural gas offshore. In another reversal of President Obama’s policies, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed Thursday to open up more than 90% of America’s Outer Continental Shelf for potential energy development.

The Interior Department’s plan would expand the areas under consideration for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It would also open up the Pacific Coast from Washington to California, the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and nearly all of the waters surrounding Alaska. The proposal will go through two more rounds of public comment, and no doubt some revisions, but when finalized the expanded lease sales could begin as early as 2019.

The proposal would enhance U.S. energy security while raising billions in federal revenue. In the past decade, thanks to the fracking revolution, the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil production and Russia in natural gas. America and its allies are now far less dependent on energy from international disruptors and despots.

Trump’s Offshore Energy Opening

But offshore has been a largely undeveloped resource. Thanks to drilling mainly in the western Gulf, offshore production accounts for one in six barrels of domestic oil. But in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Mr. Obama disallowed energy extraction on 94% of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Between fiscal 2008 and 2016, the federal government’s revenue from offshore activities had dropped to less $2.8 billion from $18 billion. In its final days, Mr. Obama’s Interior Department finalized a plan allowing a mere 11 lease sales. 

To reap the long-term geopolitical benefits of energy resources, the time to expand offshore leases is now. Even after the federal government approves a lease sale, it takes up to seven years for the first oil and gas production to begin. Meantime, energy companies must find investors, complete environmental assessments, secure permitting and conduct exploratory drilling.

Accordingly, the Trump Administration has proposed replacing the Obama plan with the largest lease sale in history. That sounds more radical than it is because of how stringent U.S. restrictions have been. No other developed nation limits its offshore drilling to the same extent.

And while Mr. Obama often pursued his energy and environment policies through executive orders and other unilateral actions, the Trump Administration has committed to public consultation. The draft proposal alone took into account more than 800,000 comments, and Interior will no doubt hear vociferous objections from the environmental lobby and politicians in both parties. Florida Republican Marco Rubio wasted no time Thursday urging Mr. Zinke to extend the Obama drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf to 2027.

If Mr. Zinke wants to avoid a political backlash, we trust he understands that he can’t afford more Deepwater Horizons. His regulators have to enforce drilling safety and accident-prevention standards. But if he does that, there is no good reason not to exploit America’s offshore resources for the public good.

Appeared in the January 5, 2018, print edition.

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