Tag Archives: offshore drilling

Offshore drilling plan moves quickly into the political arena

UPDATE: Jan 12

News was breaking yesterday as I completed this blog on offshore oil drilling. I doubt that anyone was surprised by the reaction of outrage that followed Secretary Ryan Zinke’s apparently offhanded and arbitrary decision to exempt Florida from an otherwise all-coast leasing plan.

All U.S. senators from New England states, Democrats and Republicans, signed onto legislation to exempt their states from the drilling plan, while U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, says he has unanimous bipartisan support for a similar bill in the House. Now, if they move to include the rest of the East Coast and the West Coast in the bill, they might have enough votes to pass it. (See statement from Rep. David Cicilline.)

Meanwhile, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, set the stage yesterday for the inevitable lawsuits that will follow if Zinke maintains his present course of action. Cantwell said in a statement that Zinke may have violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Others have said that he may have violated the Administrative Procedures Act as well (Washington Examiner).


The Trump administration’s announcement of an open season on offshore oil drilling all around the edges of the United States has put some congressional Republicans on the hot seat during a tough election year.

Opposition to the proposed oil leases along the East Coast is reflected in the negative comments from Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maine, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida. None want to see drilling anywhere off their shorelines.

“Of course I oppose drilling off of New Hampshire’s coastline,” Gov. Sununu said in a statement made to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Just days after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his plan to issue leases for oil and gas exploration and development nearly everywhere, he decided to let Florida off the hook — to the relief of Gov. Scott, who is said to be a close friend of the Trump administration.

Zinke’s exemption for Florida was announced in a tweet posted on Twitter, in which he called Scott “a straightforward leader that can be trusted.”

“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice,” Zinke tweeted. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott’s (sic) and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration of any new oil and gas platforms.”

It appears that Zinke is admitting that oil and gas development can harm the local tourism industry. Needless to say, the other Republican governors also would like a piece of that “support” from Zinke, as reported in a story by Dan Merica of CNN News.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Democratic governors and many members of Congress also oppose the drilling plan — with the exception of Alaska, where Gov. Bill Walker supports expanded drilling anywhere he can get it — even into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I discussed the ANWR drilling proposal in Water Ways on Nov. 16, before approval of the Republican tax bill.

Democrats in Washington state’s congressional delegation are unified in their opposition to offshore drilling, and most of them support legislation that would take the entire matter off the table for good. They are joined in their opposition by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican from the Eighth District.

“This moves America in the wrong direction and has the potential to have a negative lasting effect on our oceans as well as the shorelines of states on these coasts,” Reichert said in a statement. “Our country is at the forefront of developing efficient and cost effective alternative energy technologies and we should continue to support innovation in this area.”

Congressional districts in Western Washington.
Graphic: govtrack

Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who represents the Third District — including coastal areas in Southwest Washington — was a little more low-key.

“I don’t support offshore oil and gas exploration in states that don’t want it, and Washington’s citizens have never indicated any desire to have oil and gas activity off their coast,” she said in a Facebook post. “I’m not aware of any active plan to drill off Washington or Oregon, but I will act to protect our citizens and our coast if any such effort does arise.”

Other comments on the plan:

  • Letter in opposition (PDF 974 kb) from 109 U.S. representatives, including Washington’s Suzan DelBene, 1st District; Derek Kilmer, 6th District; Pramila Jayapal, 7th District; Dave Reichert, 8th District; Adam Smith, 9th District; and Denny Heck, 10th District.
  • Letter in opposition (PDF 997 kb) from 37 of the 50 U.S. senators, including Washington’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
  • Rep. Derek Kilmer, Sixth District: “For decades, Democrats and Republicans have agreed that opening our waters up to drilling would be shortsighted and wrong. Doing so could threaten our fisheries, shellfish growers, tourism, and jobs in other key sectors of our economy.”
  • Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell: “This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry.”

With substantial opposition from all sides, the looming question is whether Congress will allow the leasing program to move forward before expiration of the existing five-year plan for offshore drilling (PDF 34 mb), which ends in 2022 and focuses mostly on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the California Coast remains a key target for oil companies, it is unlikely that we will ever see oil rigs off the Washington Coast, no matter what happens with the leasing program. Oil and gas resources simply aren’t known to be there, according to all published data.

During the 1960s, 10 exploratory wells were drilled with no significant finds off the coast of Washington and Oregon, according to a 1977 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (PDF 10.2 mb). Some 14 other wells were drilled without result offshore near Vancouver Island in Canada. Many more onshore wells have been drilled without major success throughout the region.

In 2008, I explored the idea of offshore drilling in Washington state when the George W. Bush administration attempted to lift the offshore-drilling moratorium.

“We would probably be last, or next to last,” state geologist Ray Lasmanis told me in a story for the Kitsap Sun. “The geology is too broken up, and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.”

Officials told me at the time that even if oil companies were given free rein, they would not line up to drill off our coast.

“It is important to note that, at least here on the West Coast, that it will take more than lifting the congressional moratorium,” said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association. “In addition to state and local constraints, a number of marine sanctuaries would restrict development.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was a U.S. representative at the time, said offshore drilling was a diversion, because much better alternatives exist on land. Because of climate change, Inslee was pushing Congress to encourage renewable energy sources, as he continues to do today as governor.

“Drilling offshore,” he told me, “is doomed to failure. I’m not opposed to drilling. We accept massive drilling on federal land. But the danger is we’ll get wrapped around the minutia of the drilling issue … and we’re still going to be addicted to oil.”

The latest proposal by the Department of Interior is subject to public hearings, including one scheduled in Tacoma on Feb. 5. Check out the full schedule of 23 hearings.

Other related documents:

Administration confirms cautious approach to offshore drilling

Wind power off the East and West coasts holds the potential to supply 20 percent of all the energy needs for U.S. coastal states, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Interior.

That offshore power is presumably in addition to onshore wind power, such as what is being developed in Eastern Washington.

The offshore energy report also discusses the potential of oil and gas development, while identifying the risks of building new facilities in sensitive coastal areas. The report suggests what research is needed to answer questions about impacts on the environment — including potential injury to marine mammals.

The Obama administration has been criticized for slowing down the development of offshore oil and gas reserves, which President George Bush was pushing hard. The report seems to cement the new administration’s more cautious approach.

An executive summary of the report was released yesterday, keeping pretty much to the schedule laid out by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar earlier this year. We discussed this issue in Water Ways a couple of weeks ago.

The report also describes the potential of ocean energy — such as waves, tides and currents — but the executive summary does not reveal how aggressively the federal government may pursue needed research.

If you are interested in this subject, I would suggest that you click over and examine the executive summary (PDF 2.1 mb), which is quite readable and concise. I look forward to seeing additional details when the full report is released.

Jim Tankersley, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, focuses on the wind energy portions of the summary in a story published today. Tankersley reports that Salazar told participants at a renewable energy summit in Virginia that “we are only beginning to tap the potential” of offshore renewable energy.

Researcher finds manipulation in oil markets

I continue to be fascinated with the possibility that a few speculative traders could dramatically affect oil prices the way we have seen over the past month.

I’m still learning about futures markets for oil, but now Robert McCullough of McCullough Research has released a statistical analysis of recent changes in prices in the futures and spot markets. McCullough was an investigator who exposed Enron’s energy market manipulation several years ago. (See Portland Tribune article.)

Now, McCullough is working with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is doggedly pursuing legislation designed to shed new light on the way oil markets work. Read on for down for Cantwell’s press release or read McCullough’s report (PDF 460 kb) at his Web site.

I have another question that I’ve been pondering: Most people seem to agree that it will take seven to twelve years to bring oil to market from offshore wells. But some supporters say congressional approval would have an immediate impact on oil prices, because the markets would anticipate an increased supply.

If that’s true, wouldn’t a crash program to wean the country off oil with alternative energy supplies have an even greater impact on oil prices, since the markets would anticipate a dramatic and permanent drop in demand? I’m just wondering.

Continue reading

Where is the oil hiding, besides offshore locations?

President Bush has lifted the executive moratorium on offshore oil development. Now it is up to Congress to decide whether to shift the decision on offshore drilling to state governments for state-by-state decisions. See Ben Feller’s story for the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of political heat generated over the “use-it-or-lose-it” bill proposed by the Democrats in Congress, who argue that offshore drilling shouldn’t be approved until known onshore reserve areas are explored. The bill won’t go anywhere, because Democrats don’t have enough votes to override a presidential veto. See Andrew Taylor’s story today for the Association Press.

So what about offshore versus onshore drilling?

President Bush’s Department of Interior released a report in May that says onshore public lands are estimated to contain 31 billion barrels of oil and 231 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. I can’t seem to find where the report spells out how many acres are in roadless areas or contain endangered species and so on, but it does say this:

  • Approximately 60 percent (165.9 million acres) of the federal land is inaccessible. Based on resource estimates, these lands contain about 62 percent of the oil (19.0 billion barrels) and 41 percent of the natural gas (94.5 trillion cubic feet).
  • Approximately 23 percent (65.2 million acres) of the federal land is accessible with restrictions on oil and gas operations beyond standard stipulations. Based on resource estimates, these lands contain 30 percent of the oil (9.3 billion barrels) and 49 percent of the gas (112.9 trillion cubic feet).
  • Approximately 17 percent of the federal land (48.0 million acres) is accessible under standard lease terms. Based on resource estimates, these lands contain 8 percent of the oil (2.3 billion barrels) and 10 percent of the gas (23.6 trillion cubic feet).

See the news release OR the report itself.

Meanwhile, the BLM yesterday announced its decision to open for exploration and development about 2.6 million acres of potential oil lands in northern Alaska. The “record of decision” puts off final conclusions about another 600,000 acres north of Teshekpuk Lake, which includes habitat for caribou and migrating birds.

Tom Lonnie, Alaska state director for the Bureau of Land Management, was quoted by Felicity Barringer of the New York Times as saying the decision will allow drilling in an areas that holds some 3.7 billion barrels of oil.

For a reference on the amount of oil these figures represent, the United States goes through about a billion barrels of oil in 50 days. See the Energy Information Administration.