On Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told an industry conference in Washington, D.C. that President Donald Trump will sign an executive order to open offshore oil and gas lease auctions for America's Atlantic and Arctic waters, reversing the Obama administration's decision to exclude these areas from new activity. The measure may be a boon to the recovering offshore industry: the government projects that the U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf may hold as much as three billion barrels of oil and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Opening up Atlantic and Arctic regions to leasing will require soliciting public comments and performing new environmental impact analyses, which could take several years and a series of court battles, and advocacy groups are already preparing to oppose the move. In a statement, the non-profit Oceana said that drilling along the Atlantic seaboard “would put vibrant ocean ecosystems at risk and be bad for business, threatening thriving coastal economies and lucrative industries, including tourism, recreation and fishing.” On Friday, Oceana launched a protest campaign online, including a petition to Congress opposing the administration's plans.
According to Bloomberg, Trump is also expected to reverse the Obama administration's decision to withdraw 115 million acres of Arctic waters from all future lease activity. The protected areas include the entirety of the U.S. section of the Chukchi Sea and much of the Beaufort Sea, and the withdrawals were made jointly with Canada, which designated all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off-limits in future licensing rounds. At the time, the American Petroleum Institute protested Obama's decision, suggesting that it “ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities for our shipyards, unions, and businesses of all types across the country."
Obama used the obscure Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 to put these protections into effect, and some scholars activists and scholars contend that there is no legal way for the Trump administration to reverse them – unless the law itself were repealed by Congress.