Huge swaths of land may be open to offshore drilling in the near future

By Julia Boccagno and Justin Covington   |   circa

Offshore drilling just got a whole lot bigger.

The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday unveiled its highly-anticipated plan to open the largest area on record to offshore drilling. The five-year draft proposal reverses an Obama-era policy that protected waters off the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Coasts from commercial activity.

Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a press briefing, “Our proposal for 2019 to 2024 makes up about 90 percent of the outer continental shelf of total acreage available for leasing. In the proposal across the 25 planning areas, we’ve identified about 47 potential lease sales including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 off the coast of the gulf of Mexico.”

Bureau of Ocean

According to Zinke, the move makes sense from a numbers perspective. During the press call, Zinke said the Obama administration’s restrictions on offshore drilling forced the country to suffer financially–losing billions of dollars. That had sort of a trickle down effect for the Interior Department, in particular, regarding conservation efforts like funding the National Parks.

But others argue the opposite– that the draft doesn’t make sense at all, especially when it comes to the environment. Though Zinke said that greedy corporations would be held responsible to the highest standards–ensuring that the drilling is both safe and environmentally conscious–Jane Davenport, a senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, said such a thing doesn’t exist.

She also thoroughly explained that routine offshore drilling–not just the industrial catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill –yield enormous ecological consequences, too.

“Even if there isn’t an absolute disaster, like Deepwater Horizon, like Exxon Valdez, like Santa Barbara channel oil spill, where you get all the pictures of oiled birds and mammals–the ongoing, everyday, routine leaks and spills that occur from these drilling rigs…it’s ongoing degradation and pollution.”

And it’s not just environmentalists that raise concerns about the Interior’s proposal. It’s also come under fire among local lawmakers and business leaders, who worry about the policy’s impact on tourism, as well.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Rick Scott reaffirmed his priority to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.

In response to Scott’s concerns, Zinke said that the department will listen to the voices of all the stakeholders affected by the policy change, that includes the public, in which he mentioned will have an opportunity to share their comments during a 60-day review period.

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