Offshore Drilling Proposed for New England Coast

 Bidding for offshore oil and gas leases could expand to more federal waters, including an area off the coast of southern New England. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

Bidding for offshore oil and gas leases could expand to more federal waters, including an area off the coast of southern New England. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

President Trump will attempt to deliver on his promise to open vast areas of ocean to offshore fossil-fuel extraction, including off the coast of New England and in commercial fishing grounds such as Georges Bank.

Trump made his intention to open up the Eastern Seaboard, as well as the Arctic and Pacific oceans, to drilling in an executive order signed last April, a day ahead of the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C.

Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put that order into action Jan. 4, when he announced a plan to establish the largest footprint ever for fossil-fuel extraction.

The East Coast has been closed to offshore drilling since 1983. The proposal creates new drilling regions covering prime fishing grounds such as Georges Bank, a shoal larger than the size of Massachusetts between Cape Cod and Newfoundland. The North Atlantic drilling region includes all federal waters, which begin 3 miles off the coast.

Oil companies such as London-based BP have been lobbying to open these regions, as Trump has eased extraction safeguards and environmental rules for fossil-fuel companies. BP is responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the worst offshore drilling accident in U.S. history.

During a press conference, Zinke said he intends to “have the strongest energy policy and become the strongest energy superpower.”

The five-year leasing plan would replace President Obama's leasing proposal and open closed areas in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans to drilling. Obama protected the largest offshore regions to drilling in the final weeks of his presidency. If approved, Zinke’s plan would take effect in 2019 and run through 2024.

Public meetings on the proposal begin Jan. 16. Providence hosts a hearing scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Marriott hotel, 1 Orms St., from 3-7 p.m. Boston is scheduled to host a hearing Jan. 24, and one is scheduled for Feb. 13 in Hartford. Public comments are being accepted online.

Environmentalists, tourism groups, and some Republicans are opposing this expansion of offshore extraction and exploration of fossil fuels, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a climate denier.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., made this comment after Trump’s announcement in April.

“The only thing this order accomplishes is making a spectacle of putting dirty fossil fuel interests over the fishing, tourism, and other job-creating industries that rely on our oceans. There has never been commercial oil and gas production along the Northeast’s Atlantic coast and there never should be. If this administration tries, we will fight them tooth and nail. Along our southern Atlantic coast, even red state communities rose up against the Obama administration when it tried to green-light drilling; they are sure to do the same to President Trump. Our coastline and special places are too valuable — in Rhode Island and across America — to be sacrificed to fossil fuel company avarice."