U.S. Interior Secretary says offshore drilling plan on hold amid court setback

The U.S Interior Secretary David Bernhard is reportedly pulling breaks on the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan to open up almost all of the offshore continental shelf for oil and gas exploration and production.

David Bernhardt during the confirmation hearing in March / Image by Department of Interior/Flickr
David Bernhardt during the confirmation hearing in March / Image by Department of Interior/Flickr shared under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Wall Street Journal on Thursday published an interview with Bernhardt (paywall) in which he reportedly said the plan would be delayed indefinitely following a March court decision to proclaim illegal President Trump’s 2017 order which aimed to overturn the Obama-era ban on offshore drilling in Arctic and Atlantic areas.

According to a report by Reuters, which cited the WSJ interview, Bernhardt said the five-year plan aimed at opening most of the U.S. shelf for drilling would be “sidelined indefinitely” as it takes time for the case to go through the appeals process.

“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt reportedly told the WSJ.

The proposed plan, introduced last year by the former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke, would, if approved, see over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.

The plan was to fall under the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024. According to the U.S administration, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits.

The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) included 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s 5-year lease schedule, the Interior Department said last year.

While the Interior Department has yet to release an official statement on what Bernhardt said regarding the future lease sale, the environmental groups have welcomed the news of the five-year plan being paused.

 Athan Manuel, Director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, issued the following statement“No amount of delay is going to change the fact that the American people do not want more drilling off our coasts. Bernhardt has lost in the courtroom and he has lost in the court of public opinion. It’s time for him to give up on his radical offshore drilling plan once and for all.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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