Trump administration seeks to open most US waters to offshore oil drilling

A brown pelican flies over an oil slick at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, in 2015. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Trump administration on Thursday (Jan 4) announced a proposal to allow oil drilling in virtually all US coastal waters, drawing immediate criticism from environmentalists and some Republicans.

Officials with the US Interior Department said the plan calls for 47 lease sales over five years, a radical increase from the level allowed under President Barack Obama.

Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida was among the early critics of the plan that is part of President Donald Trump's "energy dominance" focus, saying oil drilling threatened Florida's natural resources, an issue that has long had bipartisan support.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke described the proposal as "a beginning" of a process that will take into consideration Scott's views and other state officials who oppose drilling.

While offshore drilling is defended as a vital source of jobs and economic development in Texas, Louisiana and a handful of other states, many other parts of the country have vigorously fought drilling due to environmental hazards and the importance of tourism to their local economies.

"At the end of the process, we're going to listen to the voices of all the stakeholders," Zinke told reporters on a conference call.

"Certainly Florida is going to have a say."

Zinke described the initiative as part of the Trump administration's "America First" agenda.

"There's a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance," Zinke said. "Under President Trump, we're going to be the strongest possible superpower because we have the assets."

Scott said he has requested a meeting with Zinke "to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration."

"My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected," he said in a statement.

The announcement on Thursday follows last week's unveiling of proposed new regulations on offshore drilling that would reverse safeguards put in place following the Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in 2010, which the Interior Department said would save the industry US$228 million (S$3 million) over 10 years.

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