What to do when Trump Wants to Give Our Oceans to the Oil and Gas Industry

by Mary Sweeters

January 16, 2018

The Trump Administration is doing all it can to give our oceans over for offshore drilling, but there are things you can do right now to protect our coasts.

Sunset on Northern California's coast.

[The content of this post was updated on March 1, 2018 to add additional information about seismic airgun blasting, including the video embedded below.]

[The content of this post was updated on January 25, 2018 to reflect new information about public events and the announcement about Florida’s supposed exemption by Secretary Zinke.]

I am one of the nearly 125 million Americans who live near the ocean. Growing up, I loved visiting the beautiful Northern California coastline about 35 miles from my family’s house. I went to college in a beach town and saw how that community thrives on year-round tourism and the pride it takes in caring for its coastline. Now I live about four miles from the beach, and it is still a special experience every time I go, whether it’s talking with local families fishing and crabbing off the pier or seeing the spouts of gray whales offshore during their lengthy migration.

The Trump Administration wants to allow companies to drill for oil off the coast of Northern California, my home. And if you live near the coast, it wants to allow them to drill near you too.


A Terrible, Terrible Idea

In early January, the Department of Interior released its draft proposal of the Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Five Year Program that seeks to expand drilling in Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Arctic waters — 90% of ALL of our coastline — and auction off permanently protected areas. This comes a little over a year after the Obama Administration, having conducted environmental impact assessments and received over 2 million comments from Americans opposed to new offshore drilling, decided to protect most of our waters from the risk of oil spills and to avoid locking us into more climate chaos. It also comes soon after an announcement by the administration that it is moving to undo basic offshore drilling safety measures that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This all puts workers, coastal communities, and their economies, marine wildlife, public health, and the climate at grave risk. Talk about a recipe for an actual disaster.

Then, in a surprising and poorly-planned move a few days later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that, due to protest of the plan from (among many others) Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, Florida would be removed from consideration for drilling. This decision, in which Zinke said he “supported the governor’s position that Florida is unique”, but ignored the opposition from several other arguably unique states, appears to be nothing more than a political move. This announcement has since been challenged by the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (the agency within the Department of Interior that is overseeing the Five Year Program) and it remains unclear what the Trump administration is actually considering in regards to Florida’s coast.

Basically No One is Having It

Either way, the opposition to the proposed plan has been strong, coming from every coast and from both sides of the political aisle.

“The people of the northern Bering Sea rely on the waters off our coast for subsistence and survival and we will not stand by while our way of life is threatened. We will take all legal means necessary to fight offshore drilling in our waters. We have used the legal system to fight it before and we will do it again. We were made for times like these and we will stand strong and united.

We have made it clear to Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Congressman Young multiple occasions that drilling in the northern Bering Sea is off limits. We now call on them to communicate that directly to Secretary Zinke. We, the people of the Bering Sea, are more valuable than drilling.”

– The Bering Sea Elders Group, Alaska


Young male Northern Fur Seals (Callorhinus Ursinus) frolic in the waters off the island of St. George in the Bering Sea, Alaska. The Pribilof islands are a protected breeding ground for the fur seals and a prime birdwatching attraction.

Elected officials took to social media to share their opposition:

From California’s Rep. Jared Huffman (D)

From South Carolina’s Rep. Mark Sanford (R)

From New Jersey’s Senator Bob Mendendez (D)

Insult to Injury? It’s Actually Just More Injury

What many people do not know is that before offshore drilling even starts, another destructive practice, called seismic airgun blasting, is often done in order to accurately locate oil and gas deposits under the seafloor. And if the final permits go through, as they’re expected, seismic survey companies could start blasting this year in the Atlantic Ocean, putting wildlife such as the endangered Northern Atlantic Right Whale, at even greater risk. Check out this video that explains seismic blasting and talks about Greenpeace’s collaboration with scientists from Scripps Oceanographic Institute, supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, to study the effects of seismic blasting on wildlife.




We CAN Do Something About It

But what? Fight this tooth and nail at every level of government. Here’s how:

1.  Submit a public comment in opposition to the 5 Year Plan. Right. Now. A 60-day comment period is now in effect until March 9 in which the public, organizations, cities, places of worship, etc. can submit comments to the Department of Interior in opposition to the proposal to hand over our oceans to the oil and gas industry.

Alaska residents, including fishermen who survived the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, showed up to express their concerns about offshore drilling at the Five Year Plan public hearing in Anchorage in 2016.

2. If you live in a coastal state, attend a rally or event at the public meeting on the proposal that is being held in your state during the comment period (see the rallies listed below the meeting schedule at the above link). There is one meeting per state, but major turnout to these sends a strong message. If your state’s meeting is too far away, organize or join a rally or other event to demonstrate local opposition to offshore drilling.

3. Call your member of Congress – no matter where you live – to express your opposition to offshore drilling and ask what they are doing to protect our coasts and climate. They need to hear from you before they vote on upcoming offshore drilling-related bills (such as this one that would gut the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the sake of quick seismic blasting permitting) and before they give the final approval of the Five Year Plan. The House switchboard in Washington, DC is (202) 224-3121 and will direct you to your representative’s office.

Residents from across the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast, and Alaska, march in Washington, DC in opposition to offshore drilling.

If the Trump administration gets it way, corporations will have access to conduct seismic blasting and to drill off nearly every coast in the United States with fewer safeguards.  We need a massive public outcry to stop new drilling.

Virginia residents participate in a kayak action training in Norfolk, VA and express their opposition to offshore drilling.

I don’t want oil rigs off the beaches near my home. I don’t want to bring the very real risk of an oil spill to the local fishermen, to the wildlife, or to my neighbors whose businesses depend on a healthy coast. And I certainly don’t want the guaranteed harm to our climate that new oil drilling would bring. Do you?

Mary Sweeters

By Mary Sweeters

Mary Sweeters is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace USA. She works to fight the undue influence of the oil industry in solidarity with communities affected by oil extraction, pollution, and climate change, and to advocate for a just transition to a clean energy economy. She is from Sonoma, California.

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