I’ve worked on Arctic oil and gas issues for Ocean Conservancy for nearly nine years. During that time— with the help of passionate ocean advocates across the country—we’ve made incredible progress protecting important marine habitat and subsistence areas in Arctic waters.
Last Friday, President Trump issued an executive order on offshore energy designed to reverse much of that progress.
President Trump’s new executive order contains a litany of bad news for the Arctic—and for other ocean areas, too.
It does away with executive protections that put important habitat off-limits to oil and gas drilling and other potentially harmful activity. In recognition of the risks posed by offshore drilling in the icy waters of the Arctic, large swaths of the Arctic Ocean (and the Atlantic Ocean) have been declared off-limits to future oil and gas activity. But President Trump’s executive order does away with that protection. It puts tens of millions of acres in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—and important Atlantic Ocean habitat—back on the chopping block.
The Order also reverses protections for the Bering Strait—protections that more than 70 tribes in the Bering Strait region called for. President Obama created the “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area,” and put in place special protections and measures to include tribes in the management of one of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on the planet. President Trump’s executive order abolishes the Northern Bering Strait Climate Resilience Area and the protections requested by local tribes, flying directly counter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s promise to “give local communities a voice.”
In addition to rescinding protections for ecologically and culturally important areas, the new executive order also requires the Department of Interior to begin the process of revising the current five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing. Under the existing program, no oil and gas lease sales are planned for the Arctic Ocean (or the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, for that matter). The new executive order makes clear that the Trump Administration will work as quickly as possible to pave the way for risky offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
As if opening up areas to drilling wasn’t enough, the new executive order threatens to undo regulatory safeguards that were put in place to make offshore drilling safer. For example, it specifically targets for review and possible repeal rules designed to prevent blowouts like the one that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, and Arctic-specific rules that help ensure oil companies are properly prepared for sea ice and other unique environmental conditions when they seek to explore for oil in Arctic waters. The new executive order also targets policies that help federal agencies determine whether noise from industrial activities will harm marine mammals.
On top of that, President Trump’s new executive order tasks the Secretary of Commerce with reviewing all National Marine Monuments and National Marine Sanctuaries that were designated or expanded within the last 10 years. As part of the review, the Secretary must assess the extent to which the monument or sanctuary has adversely affect offshore energy development in the region. It is not hard to guess that the “review” is just a precursor to more environmental rollbacks.
President Trump’s executive order contains even more bad news for the Arctic and other ocean areas—too much to list in this short blog post. But you already know enough to take action! Join us, and take a stand for the sea. Tell President Trump not to give our ocean to the oil and gas companies.