PRESIDENT Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at lifting bans on offshore drilling in areas around the US including Arctic waters, despite low industry demand and environmental concerns.
The order could open up federally-owned land in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans alongside the Gulf of Mexico, which were protected by former President Barack Obama.
Trump signed the executive order, called the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, last Friday in a bid to extend offshore and gas drilling to areas that were previously off-limits. The president said this will boost domestic production and create “billions of dollars in wealth” and “thousands and thousands of jobs”.
The order will see a review and replacement of the Obama administration's most recent five-year oil and gas development plan for the outer continental shelf. Obama, who was president during the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, had taken several measures to lock in additional environmental protections prior to his successor taking over.
For example, weeks before leaving office he used a 1953 law to ban drilling in much of the Arctic. This announcement was made with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and followed a climate pact seeking to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, develop clean energy and protect the Arctic.
Obama said: “The 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.”
Trump has long campaigned to remove such environmental protections, claiming that they impair energy development without providing tangible benefits. However, there are concerns that weak industry demand due to low oil prices and soaring onshore production could see his order misfire.
A review of government data by Reuters news agency showed that oil company spending in the central Gulf of Mexico's annual lease sale dropped by more than 75% between 2012 and 2017. Furthermore, amounts bid per acre and the percentage of acreage receiving bids both decreased by more than half. Figures from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have shown similar figures for the western Gulf of Mexico, the only other zone that got offers for leases during that period.
The president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) trade group, Jack Gerard, has welcomed the order. He said: “We must particularly look to and embrace the future development of domestic sources of oil and natural gas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Exploration in this area is critical to our national security, and we continue to see our neighbours in Mexico and Cuba pursue these opportunities.”
Opposition has been led by environmental groups, including Oceana and the Centre for Biological Diversity, who have promised to fight the order in court. Democratic senators have also criticised the move, saying it could threaten the fishing and tourism industries.
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