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Oil group blasts Ryan Zinke's 'premature' decision to block drilling in eastern Gulf

011018 API Oppose Zinke Offshore Drilling-pic
The American Petroleum Institute and others in the energy industry had been excited about drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. (iStock photo)

The American Petroleum Institute criticized the Trump administration Wednesday for its “premature” decision to remove the eastern Gulf of Mexico from its offshore drilling plan.

"This announcement is premature,” said CEO Jack Gerard. “Americans support increased domestic energy production, and the administration and policymakers should follow the established process before making any decisions or conclusions that would undermine our nation's energy security.”

API, the largest trade group for the oil and natural gas industry, and others in the energy industry had been excited about drilling in the eastern Gulf, more so than any other area proposed by the Trump administration. That’s because it is close to existing pipelines and processing facilities in the western Gulf as well as refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

Oil and gas production in the Gulf, which accounts for almost all current U.S. offshore production, is expected to hit a record high in 2018, after suffering three years of losses.

"The Gulf of Mexico is the backbone of our nation’s offshore energy production, and restricting access to the eastern Gulf puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk across the country and along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi,” Gerard said. “Not only that, but securing reliable sources of energy helps fuel other industries like tourism, especially in states like Florida that relies on more than 200 million barrels of gasoline and diesel each year to fuel its economy.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Tuesday night he won't allow oil and natural gas drilling off the Florida coast or the rest of the eastern Gulf, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott and almost the entire Florida congressional delegation opposed Zinke's drilling proposal, arguing risks of spills could harm the state's huge tourism economy.

The government has a moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022, imposed partly because the Pentagon worries oil development would interfere with military testing and training in the area.

But the Trump administration announced last week it plans to open almost all federal waters to oil and gas drilling, including in the eastern Gulf.

Under the Interior Department's draft proposal for offshore drilling, spanning 2019 to 2024, more than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be made available for leasing. It proposes 47 potential offshore lease sales, the most ever over a five-year period, including 19 sales off the Alaska coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic Ocean and seven in the Pacific.

Zinke has emphasized his offshore drilling proposal is not final and is subject to a 60-day public comment period, during which he said he would consult with state leaders and other stakeholders.

Coastal governors who oppose offshore drilling are pressing Zinke for their own exemptions. Some critics argue the Interior secretary violated the law by taking Florida off the table in the early stages of the public comment process, without any public hearings.

Other governors who oppose offshore drilling on their coasts include the leaders of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, and Washington. While Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, supports drilling, both of the state’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, oppose it.