Watching Government: OCS proposal turns political

Jan. 22, 2018

Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke tried to emphasize that the draft proposed 2019-24 Outer Continental Shelf leasing program he released on Jan. 4 was the first step in what he hoped would be "a lengthy and robust public comment period." Republicans as well as Democrats quickly turned the process political.

It's not clear which side struck first 5 days later. Thirty-seven US Senate Democrats told Zinke in a Jan. 9 letter that they considered the proposal "an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry."

They urged Zinke to stick with the existing 2017-22 OCS plan which includes protections for the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts instead of initially considering about 90% of the US OCS for possible leasing.

Zinke, however, said in his announcement that some of the proposed acreage might not be suitable for leasing. On Jan. 9, following a meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Tallahassee, he removed Florida's entire coast, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico, from consideration.

"President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice," the secretary noted.

US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) saw the move differently, since it has been suggested that the White House would like Scott to run against him in November. "I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Sec. Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida's coast and 4 days later agrees to 'take Florida off the table'? I don't believe it," he fumed.

Another Atlantic coastal state's governor also responded. "Offshore drilling holds the same risks for North Carolina as it does for Florida, and North Carolina deserves the same exemption," Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said on Jan. 10.

Eastern gulf elusive

Meanwhile, oil and gas trade associations which welcomed the draft proposed OCS program days earlier criticized Zinke's Jan. 9 maneuver because it included the eastern gulf.

"The gulf is the backbone of our nation's offshore energy production, and restricting access to the eastern gulf puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk across the country and along the Gulf Coast," American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard declared.

"Removing areas offshore Florida this early in the planning process prematurely curtails dialogue and thorough study of the possibilities for future development of offshore resources that could provide additional energy and jobs for working Floridians," National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi pointed out.