Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department has issued a press release announcing the opening up of all currently unleased federally-owned areas of the Gulf of Mexico: 73 million acres. The Department is planning these sales over the next five years with the first sale to take place in August of this year. Excluded from this sale of leases are areas of the Eastern Gulf protected under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006.
The Department currently leases 16.9 million acres, of which 4.6 million are being drilled for oil or gas. This four-fold expansion of current Gulf energy production is not entirely unexpected: environmental studies for the sales have already been completed, which also means that regional and industry stakeholders would have been notified of a public process for input, and these sales would be likely to happen at some point in the future regardless of administration.
The Department Press Release quotes Secretary Zinke as saying: “Opening more federal lands and waters to oil and gas drilling is a pillar of President Trump’s plan to make the United States energy independent.” According to Robert Fares, contributor to the Scientific American Plugged In blog, the United States has achieved energy independence in all but the transportation sector, where oil is mostly imported from Canada. (The US is also an exporter of coal.) The nation’s concern about energy independence is rooted in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Country (OPEC)’s historical manipulation of oil prices in the 1970s. He cites Columbia University Professor Jason Bordoff, who credits the shift from OPEC dependency to energy interdependency as a factor in lower prices and reliability of supply.
Image: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), https://www.boem.gov/note04212016/