A federal court threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s nationwide expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling when it reinstated a drilling ban on millions of acres in the Arctic Ocean, the Interior Department said Friday.
“Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President,” spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had told the Wall Street Journal that appeals of the decision are “going to take awhile.”
“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt told the Journal.
“What I can definitely say is, I’m not at a point now where it’s an imminent thing,” he told the paper.
The late March ruling blocked an executive order from President Donald Trump and reinstated an Obama administration ban on drilling in 125 million acres off the Alaskan coastline.
The ruling came as the Interior Department finalizes a sweeping plan that is expected to increase the offshore regions eligible for oil and gas leasing – a priority of the Trump administration’s energy policy, but also a sticky political issue for a President up for reelection in coastal swing states like Florida and North Carolina. While in a heated race for the US Senate, Florida’s Rick Scott, now a senator but then the governor of the Sunshine State, secured a promise from Bernhardt’s predecessor that the state’s waters would be off the table.
The administration’s initial proposal put the vast majority of the continental US shoreline under consideration for future leases, sparking tourism and environmental concerns from governors on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
But Alaska was a different story. Gov. Mike Dunleavy – a Republican who took office in December – has voiced support for “safely and responsibly” drilling offshore. The industry can “create jobs, revenue and economic opportunity for decades,” Dunleavy said in a statement after the March court decision.
The judge ruled the law allowed presidents to create drilling bans on unleased areas but that only Congress can rescind those bans.
This week, the Interior Department also took a step toward allowing fracking on federal land in California. It released an environmental impact statement ordered by a federal judge in 2017 who found the Obama administration did not properly take into account the risks when creating land use plans that could have opened more than 1 million acres in central California for fracking.