The Trump administration opens millions of new acres to drilling — and that’s just the start

By Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is aggressively pressing ahead in expanding federal oil and gas industry leases that could lead to more drilling on land and at sea, defying an assessment by scientists in President Donald Trump’s own government that the production and use of fossil fuels is accelerating climate change.

On Friday, the administration announced a final decision to lift protections for a uniquely American bird called the greater sage grouse on nearly 9 million acres to provide more leasing opportunities to oil, gas and mining industries.

A day earlier, an Interior Department assistant secretary confirmed that he told leaders of the fossil fuel industry last month that the Atlantic Coast will almost certainly be included in the administration’s plan to expand federal leasing to nearly the entire outer continental shelf. Offshore leases haven’t been granted in the Atlantic for decades, and drilling hasn’t been allowed for a half century.

Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said the department’s determined effort to approve seismic surveys is a sign that the Eastern Seaboard is in serious play — despite concerns that blasting piercing sounds every 10 seconds for weeks on end pose risks to whales and dolphins, according to conservationists and some scientists.

“I will tell you, we wouldn’t work really, really hard to get seismic permits out if that area wasn’t going to be available,” Balash said during a question-and-answer session following his speech at the International Association of Geophysical Contractors conference in Houston.

In his remarks, Balash said he found it “absolutely thrilling” that Trump’s “knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else” has allowed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management employees to process the permits without much scrutiny. In an email to The Washington Post on Thursday, Balash said his comments reflected his appreciation that the president’s leadership style made it easier to execute his energy dominance agenda.

In pursuit of that agenda over the past two years, the administration has sought to reverse dozens of regulations aimed at making oil platforms safer, reducing carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere, and protecting the habitats of endangered animals and those on the verge of an endangered status.

Administration officials have argued that animals can adapt more easily to changes in habitat than conservationists believe. Critics counter that these intrusions pose an added threat to the greater sage grouse, which is imperiled, and North Atlantic right whales, which are endangered.

Interior has offered nearly 16.8 million acres of federal land for oil and gas leasing since Trump took office, according to the Center for Biological Diversity — a swath of land larger than the combined size of Maryland and New Jersey. Of those acres, more than 2.3 million were leased, and the department plans to auction off another 1.3 million acres in the spring.

Under Friday’s decision, oil and natural gas operations can more easily conduct horizontal drilling in sage grouse habitat.

Sage grouse exist only in the United States. …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News


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