Late last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the National Ocean Industries Association conference to expect an order soon.
The coming order is set to push the Interior Department to schedule sales of new offshore oil and natural gas rights in U.S. Atlantic and Arctic waters, amending a five-year Obama administration leasing plan that left out auctions there, according to an industry representative who has discussed it with officials.
The order is also expected to begin the process of revoking former President Barack Obama’s decision to indefinitely withdraw most U.S. Arctic waters and some Atlantic Ocean acreage from future leasing. Environmentalists say it would be unprecedented for any president to rescind such a designation, and the reversal would almost certainly be challenged in court.
The executive order would set into motion a process for Arctic and Atlantic drilling that could take years before any actual drilling could begin. Such plans would require public hearings and environmental analysis from the Department of the Interior and would no doubt draw the ire of environmentalists.
The 125 million acres in the Arctic are said to hold around 27 billion gallons of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which makes them obviously attractive to the oil companies. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and industry experts agree that any order from the White House would need to be constructed in such a way as to overcome legal challenges – and environmentalists are already prepared to bring such challenges to the court.
“The administration can stare all day at the statute Obama used to protect large parts of the Arctic and Atlantic, but they won’t find a syllable allowing Trump to revoke those protections. Neither will the courts,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
It will be interesting to see if Trump plans to stand up to the environmentalists on this issue as stridently as he has faced down critics on a host of other issues.