Trump’s order to open Arctic waters to oil drilling was unlawful, federal judge finds

by Coral Davenport, NY Times

In a major legal blow to President Trump’s push to expand offshore oil and gas development, a federal judge ruled that an executive order by Mr. Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.

The decision, by Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, concluded late Friday that President Barack Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawal from drilling of about 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” She wrote that an April 2017 executive order by Mr. Trump revoking the drilling ban “is unlawful, as it exceeded the president’s authority.”

The decision, which is expected to be appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately reinstates the drilling ban on most of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, a pristine region home to endangered species including polar bears and bowhead whales where oil companies have long sought to drill. Along the Atlantic coast, it blocks drilling around a series of coral canyons that run from Norfolk, Va., to the Canadian border which are home to unique deepwater corals and rare fish species.

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Trump Admin. removes Florida from offshore drilling targets (California not so lucky)

by Ledyard King, The News-press Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – In a sudden about-face, the Trump administration has decided to exclude Florida from its plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the decision Tuesday evening after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott at Tallahassee International Airport.

Scott had joined with a bipartisan group of state officials in blasting the administration’s plan unveiled last week to open up Florida waters — a part of the largest single expansion of off-shore drilling activity ever proposed.

“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,” Zinke said in a statement released by his office. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the decision to remove Florida so quickly after it had been included in an energy-development plan that was months in the making smacked of political gamesmanship. Scott is expected to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson, a long-time drilling foe, later this year in what would be one of the nation’s most hotly contested Senate races.

“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida’s coast and four days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table’? I don’t believe it,” Nelson said in a statement.

“This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career. We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida.”

The drilling proposal, announced last week, includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas — 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic region.

The five-year plan, covering 2019 to 2024, was initiated by the America First Offshore Energy Strategy directive President Trump signed in April that could eventually open up Arctic waters and millions of coastal acres off U.S. shores to oil and gas drilling.
“Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources including abundant offshore oil and natural gas resources, but the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production,” Trump said at the time. “This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in wealth.”

When he announced the five-year plan last week, Zinke said his agency would work with states and members of Congress who represent potential drilling areas to allay concerns. But the move already was getting pushback from a number of Florida officials including Scott, a Trump confidante, who said he would oppose drilling off Florida’s coasts where tourism and coastal military installations are important to the state’s economy.

After meeting with Zinke Tuesday, Scott issued a statement headlined “Gov. Scott Fought to Protect Florida’s Coastline.”

“By removing Florida from consideration, we can now focus on how we can further protect our environment, including our proposal for record funding for the Everglades, our springs, our beaches and our state parks,” Scott said. “I will never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline.”

Polls suggest Floridians are increasingly opposed to off-shore drilling.

The annual University of South Florida-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey showed 44 percent support for the activity in 2014 with 39 percent opposed. In 2016, 47 percent opposed off-shore drilling compared to 32 percent who supported it.

Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone decried Zinke’s decision as a “purely political move to aid the ambitions of Rick Scott.”

“Had Zinke cared about the wishes of coastal communities or how drilling off their coasts will affect them, he would have proposed a plan that shrinks drilling even further, not proposed expanding operations to nearly every corner of our waters,” Jackalone said in a statement. “Floridians won’t put up with politicians who support offshore drilling because an oil spill on our beaches would wreck our economy and destroy what people love most about our state.”


Arctic Drilling

Trump administration OK’s its first arctic offshore drilling plan

by Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News

Making good on its promise to jump-start Arctic offshore drilling, the Trump administration gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light on Wednesday to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska.

This is the first Arctic drilling approval under President Donald Trump. It also will be the first exploration project conducted in the U.S. Arctic since Shell’s failed attempt in the Chukchi Sea in 2015.

The approval comes as the administration attempts to overturn former President Barack Obama’s ban of new drilling in federal Arctic waters. Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.

Environmental groups are calling the approval a sign that Trump is doing the bidding of the oil industry. The public had 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and 10 days to comment on the environmental impacts, which Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said was insufficient given the potential risks.

“An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up,” Monsell said. “The Trump administration clearly cares only about appeasing oil companies, no matter its legal obligations or the threats to polar bears or our planet.”

Eni plans to drill four exploratory wells in December 2017, just before the leases expire at the end of the year.

The wells will be drilled from Spy Island, an existing gravel island in state waters, located three miles off the coast of Alaska. The wells would be the longest extended-reach wells in Alaska—stretching six miles horizontally into an area of shallow federal waters about six feet deep.

“We know there are vast oil and gas resources under the Beaufort Sea, and we look forward to working with Eni in their efforts to tap into this energy potential,” said the Management’s acting director, Walter Cruickshank, in a statement.

Monsell noted that Eni had not pursued exploratory drilling there until its leases were about to expire.

“Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier,” she said.

In June, the Center and 12 other environmental organizations, including Earthjustice, Greenpeace, WWF and the Sierra Club, sent comments to BOEM about Eni’s proposed plan. In their comments, the groups said that Eni’s plan failed to adequately assess the extent of environmental harm the project could pose, the likelihood of an oil spill, or how Eni would respond to a large oil spill.

“Eni simply has failed to submit a complete, adequate Exploration Plan and environmental impact analysis, and, accordingly BOEM should rescind its completeness determination and reject Eni’s Exploration Plan,” the groups wrote.

BOEM disagreed, finding that the project would have “no significant impact.”

“Eni brought to us a solid, well-considered plan,” Cruickshank said.

Eni has said it will only drill in the winter when a potential oil spill would be easier to clean up and when whales are not migrating in the area.

Before Eni can drill, it will have to secure additional permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.