President Trump Proposes Catastrophic Plan to Expand Offshore Drilling

The Trump administration is proposing a 5-year plan that would expand offshore oil and gas drilling to the Atlantic Coast and Arctic Ocean. President Trump’s proposal would replace former President Barack Obama’s 5-year plan, which blocked oil and gas lease sales in these areas.

In December 2016, President Obama foreclosed new offshore drilling in parts of federal waters off the Atlantic Coast and in the Arctic Ocean. President Trump’s proposal seeks to do away with Obama’s mandate in the new five-year plan. A September 2016 opinion poll revealed that 59 percent of Americans support protections from oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Both the Atlantic Coast and the Arctic waters north of Alaska include fragile habitats for birds, marine mammals and fish. The Atlantic Ocean is the only habitat for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and the Arctic Ocean is vital habitat for walruses and threatened polar bears, already suffering from the impacts of climate change.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

In late 2012, the Kulluk, Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling ship on its way to Seattle for repairs, broke away from its towing vessel and was set adrift. All crew members had to be evacuated. Attempts at recapturing the ship failed, and it eventually ran aground on a small island off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska, on New Year’s Eve. The event demonstrated that even the most state-of-the-art technology was no match for the harsh conditions of winter in the Arctic Ocean. The conditions of the Arctic would make fighting an oil spill all but impossible. From sea ice, 60-mile-per-hour winds and forty-foot ocean swells to the near-total absence of oil spill response infrastructure and capacity in the region, the risks to people, wildlife and the environment are incredibly high. The current Administration’s plan ignores these realities and puts communities, individuals and wildlife at unnecessary risk.

Nearly all aspects of offshore oil and gas development are harmful to marine wildlife and marine habitats. The deafening seismic testing that precedes drilling exploration wreaks havoc on marine wildlife, especially marine mammals, disturbing their natural behaviors and impairing their hearing. Drill rigs damage sensitive habitats and ecosystems. As the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters so graphically demonstrated, offshore drilling always holds the potential for devastating oil spills.

A sea otter (left) and pelicans protected from oil in Louisiana by a boom (right)

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound and killed between 1,000 and 2,800 sea otters, at least 300 harbor seals, 22 orca whales and as many as a quarter of a million sea birds. Thousands of gallons of oil from the disaster remain just below the surface of Prince William Sound’s beaches to this day. The Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in 2010 unleashed over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, and killed countless numbers of seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and other wildlife. Longer-term, the spill has had serious consequences for fish reproduction, as research has shown that larval fish exposed to crude oil fail to develop properly. The spill damaged thousands of miles of coastline that hundreds of bird species depend on for nesting and migratory stopover habitat, and a study has shown that oil-exposed dolphins are more susceptible to infections.

Jamie Rappaport Clark and Jeff Corwin help cleanup efforts in the Gulf after Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill

President Trump’s offshore drilling plan is wildly reckless, irresponsible and a sellout to billion-dollar corporations. It throws stewardship of our coastal and ocean waters out the window.

Offshore drilling is a dirty business. This proposal increases the risk of losing polar bears, walrus, North Atlantic right whales, sea turtles and other vulnerable species to a catastrophic oil spill. But even when there is no major catastrophe, marine wildlife is devastated by routine spills, air pollution, seismic blasting and other fallout from industrial oil and gas development in our oceans. Our natural heritage is not President Trump’s to plunder, and we will fight this reckless proposal in the courts and on Capitol Hill.

- Jamie