Trump’s offshore drilling proposal eliminates 50-mile buffer between coastline, drill rigs

By David Pendered

The continental waters off Georgia’s coast are to opened to drilling for oil and natural gas in leases to be signed in 2020, 2022, and 2024, under a draft proposal released Thursday by the Trump administration that would open most of the nation’s seabed to drilling. Environmental groups have announced their opposition to the plan.

The offshore drilling proposal released Thursday by the Trump administration authorizes oil drilling along in all of the nation’s offshore continental waters. Credit:

The draft proposal eliminates a 50-mile buffer between a drilling structure and the coastline. This buffer was established in the 2015 offshore drilling plan released by the Obama administration, which itself was criticized by some environmental organizations.

One industry observer said Thursday during an interview on PBS NewsHour that the proposal released Thursday is just the starting point for the upcoming conversation on offshore drilling. Political realities likely will result in reductions in the current drilling proposal, said reporter Amy Harder, who covers energy and climate change for the AXIOS media outlet.

“It will be very difficult [to override opposition from governors],” Harder said. “Even if technically and legally the administration can move forward, they still need the buy-in and cooperation of these state governors.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has come out against the plan, as have Democratic governors along the West Coast, Harder said.

The flurry of comments follows an announcement Thursday afternoon by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Zinke is a former Navy SEAL commander who served as a congressman from Montana for the two years before Trump nominated him to the cabinet position.

Zinke said in a statement the proposal would make over 90 percent of the nation’s offshore continental shelf available for exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas. In addition, the 98 percent of what he described as, “undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal waters,” will be made available for future exploration and development, according to the statement.

Zinke continued:

Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke

  • “Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.
  • “Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

The Obama administration cited job creation and independence from foreign oil among the reasons it authorized offshore oil drilling.

The Southern Environmental Law Center released a statement Thursday that characterized the proposed leases as opening the Mid Atlantic and South Atlantic to what it described as, “risky drilling.” The SELC has been litigating over environmental issues in the Southeast for more than 30 years.

The entire coastline of Alaska would be open to drilling under a proposal released Thursday by the Trump administration. Credit:

The SELC’s statement observed that the current proposal eliminates a provision of the Obama-era plan, which provided a 50-mile buffer between the coast and extraction devices.

In addition, the SELC noted that just last week the Trump administration released a proposal to reduce some safety regulations established after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those regulations were intended to lessen the chances that oil may be leaked in extraction operations.

According to a statement by Sierra Weaver, an SELC senior attorney:

  • “Today’s announcement by the Trump administration willfully ignores coastal governors, communities, businesses, and elected leaders up and down the coast who’ve made it clear they don’t want drilling off their shores.
  • “Offshore drilling threatens local communities, economies, and everything that makes the South a special place. In 2016, Southern communities along the Atlantic coast successfully fought off an attempt to bring offshore drilling to their coasts, and they will do the same again.”

The five-year energy proposal released Thursday calls for waters off Georgia’s coast to be open to leases in 2020, 2022 and 2024. Credit:


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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