Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke said states opposed to the Trump administration's proposal to open more than 90% of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to oil and natural gas exploration "will be very happy" with a draft proposal scheduled to come out this fall.
In testimony Wednesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Zinke said he's had discussions with governors along the East Coast over the proposal and found that only two -- Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, both Republicans -- "are either favorable [to drilling] or neutral, the rest of the governors are opposed."
At issue is a draft proposed program (DPP) for the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, which the DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management unveiled earlier this year.
Zinke said the only oil and gas play of any significance along the East Coast lies about 70 miles offshore and runs from northern Georgia to Virginia. He called the geologic structure the "Mid-Atlantic" play, but conceded that DOI doesn't have a lot of information about it. The department assumes it is a natural gas play, he said.
"What's also happening is there's no doubt that drilling offshore is more risky than onshore," Zinke told the House Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. "What we're seeing as a country is investments are moving onshore to the Permian because it's not as risky."
Another obstacle to development, Zinke said, is the lack of infrastructure along the East Coast.
"Unlike the Gulf Coast, there is no subsea infrastructure. So were you to begin an offshore oil and gas play on the East Coast, you would have to start from scratch."
At one point in the hearing, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) took issue with Florida being exempted from the DPP. "Frankly, why did you exempt Florida and not us? We deserve it more," she quipped.
Zinke replied that every member of Florida's congressional delegation had written him letters immediately opposing the Sunshine State's inclusion in the DPP. He also pointed out that Florida is unique in that it is part of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico moratorium, which doesn't expire until 2022.
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, had a nearly identical exchange with Zinke last month during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing.
"States matter, the local voice matters, you matter and the governor matters," Zinke told Pingree. "As we go through there we are shaping our plan to make sure that we accommodate local voices.
"We're trying to get the first draft out in the fall. I'm sure Maine is going to be very happy with the draft proposal."