Trump administration moves to expand oil drilling in Alaskan waters

Oil Offshore Platform, Photo Date: January 2009 / Divulgacao Petrobras / CC BY 3.0 BR / MGN
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU / AP) In a newly published proposal Thursday, the Trump administration is aiming to allow previously unprecedented drilling in waters surrounding the United States. Included in that deal, are 19 proposed leases off of Alaska coastline.

The proposal itself, a nearly 400 page document detailing the conditions of these sales, is being touted as the "next step for responsible development" by the Interior Department.

The plan includes multiple brand new opportunities for drilling in Alaska over the next five years, including 3 in the Chukchi Sea, 3 in the Beaufort Sea, 2 in Cook Inlet, and 1 sale each in 11 other program areas in Alaska.

The 11 program areas consist of the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak, Shumagin, Aleutian Arc, St. George Basin, Bowers Basin, Aleutian Basin, Navarin Basin, St. Matthew-Hall, Norton Basin, and Hope Basin, according to the document. None of the sales directly target Bristol Bay waters.

In addition to Alaskan, and Arctic waters, almost all United States water will be effectively cracked open for development. This news has riled up environmental groups across the country, who actively work to prevent drilling in many of these areas.

The new five-year drilling plan can open areas off the East Coast in places from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades.

It's the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades and comes in response to President Donald Trump's executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters.

This move is being seen as controversial, with those opposed to additional fossil fuel resource development calling the move "dangerous."

Biologist and professor Rick Steiner said, "If this dangerous offshore plan moves ahead, we can expect decades of more catastrophic oil spills, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires."

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the areas included in the draft target every area that President Obama's administration protected in 2016.

The plan will not take effect immediately, according to the Interior Department. Instead, there will first be a 60 day comment period, allowing residents to weigh in on the proposal.

"Public meetings will be held around the country starting on January 16, 2018, to receive comments on the DPP," the Interior said Thursday.

Steiner said that the sheer number of potential drilling operations would be problematic if they were to go through.

"Burning this amount of fossil fuel would add over 50 billion tons of CO2 to the global atmosphere, a 'carbon bomb' comparable to the Alberta tar sands. And much of this CO2 would be reabsorbed into seawater, increasing ocean acidification," Steiner said.

Even if the areas remain intact through the 60 day comment period, a sale is not guaranteed. Many groups, including those in California, are prepared to fight the development of their otherwise pristine waters on a legal front.