April 30, 2019
By Kirk Moore
Stung by a federal court decision in Alaska last month, Trump administration officials are putting a hold on ambitious plans to greatly expand offshore oil and gas leasing.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published April 25, recently confirmed Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said new leasing plans for the East and West coasts and Alaska will likely be delayed while a March 29 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason winds its way through the appeals process.
Sitting in Anchorage, Alaska, Gleason ruled that former President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals of offshore lands from leasing consideration could only be revoked by an act of Congress.
Critics including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, argue Gleason erred in concluding that President Trump does not have constitutional authority to reinstate lease areas, and urged the administration to pursue appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt told the Wall Street Journal.
The pause was not unanticipated, said Randall Luthi, president of the National Offshore Industries Association.
“However, Interior should still evaluate the option of moving ahead with a proposed plan, with the caveat that the areas that are affected by the previous withdrawal could be excluded from an eventual sale,” said Luthi. “A hard stop negates months of environmental and economic analysis that could be used to move the plan forward.”
East Coast drilling opponents welcomed news of a delay.
“But this is also good news for opponents of seismic testing in the Atlantic,” said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, whose coastal membership has allied with national environmental groups to oppose exploration. “If a new five-year plan is being delayed, so should any permits for seismic airgun blasting.”
Other state governments continued to mount their own roadblocks to East Coast oil and gas development. On Monday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that would ban exploration in state waters, but more importantly block construction of new offshore oil and gas infrastructure on shore in New York State.