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U.S. To Open Drilling In Previously Protected Zones

The U.S. Department of interior is set to replace the Obama administration’s five-year oil and gas leasing plan on key bodies of water with federal government jurisdiction, the Oil and Gas investor said.

The new plan will open up waters in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans to expand domestic production despite the objections of environmentalists, state regulators, and coastal business interests.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to announce the new plan Thursday afternoon, according to a departmental press release, which comes nine months after Trump issued an executive order prioritizing “energy exploration and production... in order to maintain the nation's position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people.”

Frank Knapp of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce said the Interior Department’s new move unfairly favored the oil and gas sector over the tourism sector.

“What part of the business sector are they listening to? It’s certainly not small or coastal businesses whose livelihoods are dependent on healthy oceans,” Knapp said.

Last month, a leasing round in Arctic Alaska went largely ignored by drilling companies, drawing very few bids. Seven bids were received in total, encompassing roundly 80,000 acres, which translates to less than a percent of the 10.3 million acres made available in the state’s National Petroleum Reserve under the Trump administration’s orders. The lease was the largest of its kind since 1999.

The Department of the Interior is also trying to expedite drilling permits in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, to the ire of environmentalists. Vincent DeVito, energy advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, told S&P Global Platts that the government would continue its environmental stewardship of the land despite the drilling. The latest effort would open eight percent of the refuge’s lands to oil and gas exploration.

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com

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