This morning President Trump signed an executive order that could once again open up federal waters in the Arctic, the Atlantic Ocean, and off the California coast for offshore drilling. The executive order would revise a five-year leasing plan issued by the Obama administration that, for the first time in 40 years, didn't include the Arctic as an area to lease and drill.
The executive order doesn't come as much of a surprise for a president who appears blind to the economic and environmental realities of the energy market and climate change. Trump has promised to bring coal jobs back to Appalachia despite there being little market demand for the product, and now he's promising to open up the Arctic for drilling even after several companies pulled out of Arctic expeditions.
"There's no particular reason you would want to do this now," Eric de Place, policy director at the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, said. "The country is awash in cheap crude oil. We have cheap imports coming off from Canada. To me this is more like tribal signaling. It's more like a thoughtless 'throw oil energy strategy' that has no real direct connection to the state of the economy."
Shell spent $7 billion on its Arctic oil expedition before pulling out of the project in 2015, citing few encouraging results, high costs, and regulatory obstacles. Before that, kayaktivists in the Northwest protested around the drilling rigs and support vessels, turning up in hundreds of kayaks in Elliott Bay, chaining themselves to a ship in Bellingham, and dangling from a bridge in Portland.
In response to the new executive order, the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California issued a joint statement calling the president's decision "short-sighted."
"We still remember what happened in Santa Barbara in 1969, Port Angeles in 1985, Grays Harbor in 1988 and Coos Bay in 1999," the governors wrote. "We remember the oil soaked beaches and wildlife and the devastating economic impacts to local communities and the fishing industry. Now is not the time to turn back the clock. We cannot return to the days where the federal government put the interests of big oil above our communities and treasured coastline."
Still, even if Trump's executive order is able to fight off legal challenges, it would likely be at least a decade before any oil production takes place in the Arctic, Oceana's Pacific senior counsel Mark LeVine said.
"[The executive order] starts the process for which leases could be sold, and before any oil could flow from the Arctic or Atlantic, that plan has to be revised, leases have to be sold, which means companies have to buy them," LeVine said. "Companies then have to drill exploration wells, find oil, and then produce it. In the Arctic we've been through this process in two big iterations before (...) and those companies walked away. There's little reason to think trying again is worthwhile."