The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior has announced that 77 million acres of federal water will be leased for offshore drilling in 2018.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the upcoming lease sale on Tuesday, which would create an area the size of the state of New Mexico to be used for offshore oil drilling. The lease of the water in the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico would be the largest in U.S. history, allowing companies to drill for an estimated 48 billion barrels of oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“In today’s low-price energy environment, providing the offshore industry access to the maximum amount of opportunities possible is part of our strategy to spur local and regional economic dynamism and job creation and a pillar of President Trump’s plan to make the United States energy dominant,” Zinke said in a public statement.
The new area to be opened up for drilling includes the Macondo Prospect, where the Deepwater Horizon spill — the largest and most devastating offshore oil spill in history — took place just seven years ago. The practices of oil giant BP, drilling contractor Transocean, and Halliburton, which handled the cement for the oil well, were put in the spotlight following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and injured another 17, and spilled almost 5 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Former President Barack Obama instituted a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf following the spill.
In 2010, an investigation by the Associated Press found that while offshore drilling itself played a role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the primary culprit was the arm-in-arm relationship the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), which regulates offshore drilling, had with oil companies like BP. The MMS was caught lying about the last time it conducted a proper inspection of the rig:
Under a revised statement given to the AP on Sunday, MMS officials said the last infraction aboard the rig, which blew up April 20, killing 11 and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, occurred in August 2003, not March 2007 as originally stated.
According to Secretary Zinke’s statement, The Trump administration’s Interior Department appears to be exhibiting the same troubling friendliness to extractive industry that George W. Bush’s Interior Department showed to oil companies. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to ease regulations on oil drilling to incentivize fossil fuel giants to drill even more, despite oil drilling already happening at double the pace of 2008.
In addition to his policy statements, the presidential cabinet also signals that the administration will be taking a hands-off approach to oil and gas regulations. One of the key figures in the Trump administration is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was previously the CEO of oil conglomerate ExxonMobil. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt previously sued the agency he now heads on more than a dozen occasions on behalf of oil and gas companies.
The lease sale will take place in March of 2018, and will be livestreamed from New Orleans.
Matthew P. Robbins is a freelance economics contributor covering wages, budgets, and taxes. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his husband and two cats.