The process to re-do the Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program has begun.
The Trump Administration is moving forward with plans to expand offshore energy development in our national waters, including the Arctic Ocean. The first step of this process takes the form of a Request for Information (RFI), which was filed this week by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency within the Department of the Interior. This RFI kicks off a two year planning process to replace the 2017-2022 Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (aka the Five Year Plan), which outlines where offshore oil and gas leasing may occur.
The Trump Administration hopes that a new 2019-2024 Five Year Plan will pave the way for offshore drilling in large swaths of our country’s waters, including in millions of acres of Arctic waters that were withdrawn from oil and gas leasing by President Obama. Legal battles by environmental groups will determine whether the Trump Administration can lease in those withdrawn acres, but it is important to note that while President Obama’s withdrawals were significant, they still left 2.8 million acres in the nearshore Beaufort Sea more immediately available for leasing under future agency plans. This region happens to be in close proximity to existing oil and gas infrastructure in the Arctic, making it one of the more appealing areas to oil companies, and therefore more immediately at risk. Currently, the only plan protecting these 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea from oil and gas development is the existing Five Year Plan – the plan that the Trump Administration is beginning to administratively re-do. Should the new Five Year Plan weaken the protections in the existing Five Year Plan, this area of the Arctic could see oil and gas leasing as early as 2019.
The science that justified protecting the Arctic marine environment during the 2017-2022 Five Year Plan planning process remains as true and relevant today as it was during the last planning period. The Arctic Ocean provides vital habitat for a wide array of seabirds and marine mammals, and the science strongly supports the wise management of this region. Furthermore, there is currently no adequate response capacity for an Arctic oil spill, and history shows that wherever we drill, we spill. In addition to environmental catastrophes like Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, small but destructive oil spills regularly occur wherever drilling takes place. Considering this region is already experiencing significant changes like dramatic reductions in sea ice and increased temperatures, it is deeply irresponsible to subject this fragile ecosystem to further stress.
This is why we need you to speak up for the Arctic Ocean. Tell Secretary Zinke that the existing protections in the 2017-2022 Five Year Plan should be upheld! Take action here.