The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to open up parts of the Arctic and waters off the mid- and south Atlantic coasts to drilling. The contentious new plan, unveiled by the Interior Department, proposes 14 potential leases between 2017 and 2022 in parts of the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The leases open up drilling on nearly 80 percent of undiscovered, potentially recoverable resources off the nation’s outer continental shelf.
Drilling remains off-limits off the Pacific coast, where political opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration has long been fierce. Some areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the Alaskan coast—which the administration deemed “simply too special to develop”—have also been banned from leasing.
Here’s a map of the areas that were previously open to drilling and the new areas proposed for leasing. Click to enlarge.
Lawmakers in southeastern states have long sought to open up the Atlantic coast to drilling, in part because a portion of the royalties from drilling will be redirected to their state’s coffers. According to estimates by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement over 3.3 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of gas lie beneath the Atlantic outer continental shelf. For comparison, Saudi Arabia produced over 4 billion barrels of oil and 3.6 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2013.
“Opening new areas to drilling is necessary for an energy renaissance,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute. “The energy America produces offshore today is only possible because of solid decisions made by regulators and the private sector.”
But environmental groups worry that leasing new land not only puts coastal ecosystems at risk of a spill but increases the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, moving the country further away from reaching its climate goals. Just a few days ago environmental groups celebrated after President Obama proposed setting aside over 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.
“The announcement today is sending mixed signals. Obama is picking and choosing which climate issues to tackle,” said Claire Douglass, the campaign director for climate and energy at Oceana. “The fact of the matter is we need to redouble our efforts and develop our offshore renewable energy resources.”
The Atlantic coast has been under a longstanding moratorium on drilling since the 1980s. In 2010, the Obama administration briefly considered opening up the coastal waters off Virginia to drilling but quickly withdrew plans following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The plan will be finalized later in the year following a 60-day public comment period and the publication of a draft environmental impact statement.