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The debate over Trump’s offshore drilling proposals

22nd January 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

While the immigration debate has consumed media discussion in recent days, less noticed is how the Trump Administration’s proposal to allow offshore drilling in U.S. territorial waters—in coastal areas where it is currently prohibited—has sparked a pitched battle in Washington between environmental groups and domestic energy advocates.

Even nominal allies of the President, GOP Governors like Florida’s Rick Scott to Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker to Maryland’s Larry Hogan, have all rejected any drilling off of their states’ coasts as a danger to tourism and the environment. With the exception of Florida, the President and his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seem ready to move to approve permits to drill elsewhere up and down the continental shelf and on both coasts.

Opposition has been poignant, even here in the Pelican State, where offshore drilling remains popular. Maritime lobbyist and New Orleans native Brian Trasher, who enjoys strong ties to the Trump Administration, has long advocated expanded coastal drilling across the U.S.

When asked why the President made the proposal, even knowing that prominent GOP governors would be opposed, Trasher replied, “One thing that is proving to be the case with the Trump Administration is that he is putting a high priority on fulfilling campaign promises. He said during the campaign that he was going to reverse some of these ‘harmful to business’ regulations. And, of course, after the BP oil spill put a moratorium, the Obama Administration put a moratorium on offshore drilling.” Trump pledged to reverse it.

The Republican maritime lobbyist was unconcerned by the ubiquity of opposition, even on his side of the aisle. Only the leaders of Alaska, Maine, and Georgia have expressed any openness to expanding drilling where it is currently banned off their shores. Trasher thinks the Governor’s opposition has more to do with money than principle, noting that in most states, if drilling occurs “more than 100 miles offshore, the federal government gets all of [the royalties]. We get nothing.”

In his view, the GOP opposition is the opening gambit in a negotiation on how to access these newfound offshore oil royalties. As the maritime lobbyist explained to The Louisiana Weekly, “Of course, these governors are not going to be for having drilling going offshore from their states where they are not going to be getting any of the revenue. I wouldn’t even call this ‘a shot across the bow’. This is basic ‘Art of the Deal’ negotiation. ‘Okay, we are going to oppose this unless we can open up the conversation about increasing the amount of square mileage that we get off of our coasts to receive royalties from drilling. Not all of it going to the federal government.’”

For fellow New Orleanian and national Environmental Advocate Jonathan Henderson, the Gubernatorial opposition, even on the Right, comes from a higher purpose than a pursuit of royalties and revenue-sharing. “No, its about the fact that even with Republicans, it’s not lost on our leadership and our people—and their constituents—when major spills occur, they cannot be cleaned up. They cause long term environmental damage, and it’s impossible to restore the ecology. And then there is also the fact that we are facing a long-term global climate crisis, so to open up the rest of U.S. territorial waters would just be a carbon disaster. And, much of that carbon would impact our seas, absorb more CO2, and increase ocean acidification, and a major spill would cause sever economic damage to a lot of these coastal states that don’t already have offshore drilling by impacting tourism.”

Acknowledging that offshore drilling is popular in some states, like his home state of Louisiana, Henderson still maintained to this newspaper, “I do think it is a bad idea. Trump’s whole energy policy is a train wreck waiting to happen. Increasing offshore leasing, weakening regulations, reducing agency oversight, trying to marginalize citizens who are opposed to it, ignoring the science, and just giving the companies huge tax breaks. It is just a very dangerous group of policies.”

Henderson, who is the founder of the advocacy group, Vanishing Earth, warned, “There is five to ten fires per one hundred platforms in the Gulf of Mexico every year. There is more than 100 fires and explosions in the Gulf every year. That amounts to a fire or explosion every three days.”

Trasher immediately countered that Henderson’s figures are over-exaggerated. “In 2016, there were more fires AT FIRE STATIONS than on offshore oil platforms. So, a little spark-up here and there, whatever, if you want to call that an official fire—okay—but it’s not like its damaging to lives, property, or the environment.”

Henderson disagreed. “There is an average of two spills per day offshore. Dozens and dozens of spills offshore that are over 500 gallons per year. When we are talking about opening up and expanding drilling on the East Coast, we are not just talking about just a few rigs that are offshore that are out of sight, far away from tourists. We are also talking about a very necessary network of pipelines that have to come from offshore and go straight through the coastline into infrastructure all along the coast. So, you will see a drastic change in the ascetics of some of these coastal communities that rely on tourism. That rely on a very sound natural environment, that is beautiful and unadulterated with the noise of heavy industry.”

Trasher contended, “I agree the possibility of a spill is a big deal. When it happens, it is a tragedy. I don’t agree that they cannot be cleaned up. And the other thing is that the oil companies are responsible for the clean up, not the taxpayers.”

Henderson disagreed, “We think these are major oil companies, but a lot of these operators in the Gulf are small ‘mom and pop’ companies that do not have the capitol to respond to a major oil blowout like the Deepwater Horizon. Trump’s policy has been to cap the Oil Liability Trust Fund at $40 billion. We’re talking about for each well, $1 million to implement new safety standards. If a company is operating in the same deep waters that BP or Shell or Chevron is operating in, and they don’t have the assets to respond to a disaster, we should be thinking whether they should be operating in the first place.”

In a radio forum with the author, two men got into a spirited argument over global climate change, the subtext of the debate, and whether a Category 5 hurricane would wipe out the response system to combat major spills. “We are really taking risks without the ability to respond,” Henderson cautioned.

Trasher charged that these safety regulations have strained the oil exploration almost out of existence., “Overregulation has almost destroyed this industry.” Allowing expanded drilling, in states that want it, he contended, is the key to domestic energy independence.

Listen to Trasher and Henderson debate coastal drilling at either or

This article originally published in the January 22, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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