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Trump Expands Offshore Drilling Ban to Cover Three Southeast States

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Image courtesy Rep. Chris Sprowls

By The Maritime Executive 09-08-2020 10:18:25

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to extend a drilling moratorium for Florida's Gulf Coast. The order also expands the moratorium's coverage to include previously unprotected waters off the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. At a campaign rally in Florida Tuesday afternoon, Trump told supporters that the E&P moratorium will "[protect] your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean" for years to come.

The moratorium was not set to expire until mid-2022, and its early extension - and dramatic expansion - came as a surprise to many energy industry insiders. Three years ago, the Trump administration suggested that it would remove the moratorium altogether and allow unrestricted E&P lease activity off Florida's Gulf Coast (though it later retreated from that plan). The administration has broadly supported U.S. energy producers - even taking the controversial decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling - and the announcement marks an about-face.

“It’s a complete ambush,” one oil industry official told Politico, which broke the news of the decision early on Tuesday. “Nobody knows where this came from. It totally seems like a campaign sort of thing.”

Offshore oil and gas industry associations immediately questioned whether Trump's order was necessary.

“Extending the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and expanding it to the South Atlantic is the wrong approach at the wrong time. Offshore access is critical for growing U.S. energy leadership and providing affordable energy for American families for decades to come,” said American Petroleum Institute VP Lem Smith in a statement. “Our industry has proven again and again that responsible development and environmental protection aren’t mutually exclusive, and we are deeply disappointed that the administration has taken this action.”

"Daily experience in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico shows how offshore production goes hand-in-hand with environmental stewardship, national defense and other industries, including fishing and tourism," said Erik Milito, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore drilling contractors and service providers. “Our preference should always be to produce homegrown American energy, instead of deferring future production to countries like Russia and Iran, which do not share American values."

Trump's order found little praise among environmental NGOs, though for different reasons. Greenpeace USA issued a scathing critique, and the Sierra Club's response - while more restrained - was not flattering. 

“Donald Trump is fooling himself if he believes a single speech will stem the rising tide sinking his campaign. Failing to adequately fund Everglades restoration, attempting to sell off our waters to corporate polluters, and rolling back more than 100 environmental protections doesn’t make you anything other than the worst president ever for the environment and climate," said Sierra Club political director Ariel Hayes in a statement.

It did receive strong support from the governors of the affected states. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described it as a "great win for Florida's environment." South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster described it as "good news," but warned that "we must remain vigilant in the conservation and preservation of our coastline."