The Interior Department has put plans to open more offshore areas to oil and gas drilling on hold indefinitely, according to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Bernhardt said the decision to shelve offshore drilling plans was made after a federal court in Alaska ruled against an executive order President Donald Trump issued to open Arctic waters to energy exploration.
“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Thursday.
Interior officials will likely have to wait until the legal process plays out or else risk finalizing a five-year plan for offshore drilling that’s out of step with court rulings. As it stands, the March court ruling keeps Arctic waters off limits unless Congress passes legislation to open them.
“What if you guess wrong?” Bernhardt said. “I’m not sure that’s a very satisfactory and responsible use of resources.”
The news will be welcomed by environmentalists that sued the Trump administration to block Arctic offshore drilling. Conservatives and pro-industry Republicans, however, see it as a major setback.
“It’s not like the Trump administration to give up so easily on something so profoundly important as Energy Dominance and all of the benefits that brings,” Dan Kish, a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Especially at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing. Let’s hope they don’t do the same thing with ANWR,” Kish said, referring to plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “The anti-energy green left will smell blood.”
Offshore drilling was a key part of Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda, which aims to boost oil and gas production. Under former Secretary Ryan Zinke, Interior officials began crafting a replacement to the Obama administration’s five-year plan for offshore drilling.
The Trump administration’s plan, released in early 2018, proposed the largest number of offshore lease sales ever, opening 90 percent of the outer continental shelf acreage to energy exploration covering 98 percent of recoverable oil and gas resources.
U.S. offshore areas are estimated to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 127 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to official estimates.
Environmentalists were quick to contest Interior’s plan, as were Atlantic coastal state governors. That included former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, who was concerned about offshore drilling’s impact on tourism.
Zinke took heat for promising Scott he would take Florida “off the table for offshore oil and gas.” Zinke soon walked back that statement, saying Florida was “still in the process” for possible offshore energy development.
Zinke announced his resignation in late 2018 amid a flurry of ethics investigations. Bernhardt served as acting secretary until confirmed by the Senate in April.
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