Beach News


Beach News is a courtesy service provided by the Carteret County Shore Protection Office that furnishes on-line news relevant to the beaches of North Carolina with special emphasis to Carteret County.  Please visit if you wish to be added to or removed from the "Beach News" distribution list.   Recent "Beach News" is provided below.

BEACH NEWS for 2018

North Carolina Beach Inlet & Waterway Association (NCBIWA) 
Local Governments Meeting
April 23 & 24, 2018
Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium, N.C.

It took 7 years to regulate beachfront building, and S.C. lawmakers could undo it all 

Freeman Park reopens to drivers 

Freeman Park fence still up after NC orders removal 

Carolina Beach says no to refunds for Freeman Park, fencing yet to be removed 

How N.C. used a threatened lawsuit to prevent offshore drilling before

DEQ chief talks offshore drilling strategy with local leaders

Gone with the wind: storms deepen Florida's beach sand crunch 

Wrightsville Beach nourishment could wrap in late March 

State orders restoration of Freeman Park

State calls actions taken at Freeman Park by property owners “unauthorized” 

Bills call halt to retreat from the shoreline (SC)

Dare County Waterways Commission Make Imminent Plans for “Crunch Time” Dredging 

Duke’s Drones to Take Off on Defense Project

Zinke uproar prompts GOP call for extended ban off Fla.
Rob Hotakainen, E&E News, February 15, 2018
Responding to an uproar caused by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, 10 Florida House Republicans want to extend and expand a moratorium on drilling off the coast of their home state until 2029.  Zinke last month proposed to open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration, but only days later, he tweeted that waters off the Florida coast would no longer be included in the plan. Zinke changed his mind after meeting privately with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who opposed the plan (E&E News PM, Jan. 10).  The 10 lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. John Rutherford, said they now want to make sure Zinke abides by his word.  "While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently committed that Florida would be 'off the table,' as of now the plan to include Florida is still pending," they said in a column published yesterday in the Tampa Bay Times. "For this reason, we have introduced legislation to codify in law Zinke's commitment."  Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, testified before a House panel that Zinke's tweet didn't make policy and that waters off Florida "are still part of the analysis until the secretary gives us an official decision otherwise" (Greenwire, Jan. 19).  The issue has long been championed by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who in 2006 helped forge a deal that imposed the current moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It's set to expire in 2022, though Nelson also wants the ban extended.  Joined by nine co-sponsors from Florida, Rutherford yesterday introduced the "PROTECT Florida Act," H.R. 5014, which would extend the moratorium on drilling and exploration in the eastern Gulf for another seven years.  It also would create a new moratorium on drilling and exploration in the Florida Straits and south Atlantic, off the coast of Florida.  In their column, the Florida lawmakers said allowing the current moratorium to expire in 2022 could have an immediate impact.  "The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the gulf, spanning thousands of square miles, must not be forgotten," they wrote. "Birds, marine mammals, fish and turtles were injured and killed. Beaches, marshes and wetlands were soaked in oil, and fisheries were closed. Even though this rig was off the coast of Louisiana, Florida's economy took a major hit for several months."  The bill's co-sponsors are Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross and Ted Yoho.

Nearly $10 million beach nourishment program underway in Wrightsville Beach 

Looking to go deeper, wider with Lockwood Folly Inlet 

NOAA no longer predicting Topsail Inlet tides

Trump admin offers big changes to flood insurance
Benjamin Hulac, E&E News, February 13, 2018
Rates for federal flood insurance will have to rise to reflect the risk of living in flood zones, the White House said yesterday.  In its budget proposal, the administration said payouts by the National Flood Insurance Program are driving the program further into debt. It said current rates underprice flooding risks and suggested privatizing the program.  "The Administration recognizes that flood insurance rates must increase so that policyholders' premiums reflect the risk of living in flood zones," the budget plan states.  In October, the White House's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said the program was not set up to deal with massive insurance claims, which have plagued the troubled program since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.  "Put plainly, the NFIP is not designed to handle catastrophic losses like those causes by Harvey, Irma, and Maria," he wrote in a letter, referring to the hurricanes that made landfall last year.
Since its creation in the 1960s, the program has been a financial backstop for property owners — and mortgage banks — in floodplains, by providing affordable insurance in some of the nation's riskiest areas. But experts say it has also encouraged real estate developers, construction firms and homeowners to build in dangerous places.  In 2016, about 1 percent of buildings covered by the NFIP were considered "repetitive loss properties" — homes that are swamped again and again. Yet those policies were responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the program's claims, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers NFIP.  The White House said yesterday it supports the idea of bringing more money into the program while subsidizing low-income policyholders. The Trump administration called for the creation of "affordability assistance" within the NFIP, which would cost $434 million over the next decade.  In his October letter, Mulvaney said Congress should raise rates for those "who can afford to pay risk-based rates" and subsidize the rates of those who cannot.  Premiums would go up under the White House plan "if you are middle class," said R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.  Congress has until March 23 to reauthorize the NFIP.
Lehmann said overhauling the program is a priority for Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the Financial Services Committee. "He's intent on this being a legacy piece of legislation for himself," he said.  Addressing the repetitive loss issue is "something that House Republicans feel is a core part of their doctrine," Lehmann added.  Josh Saks of the National Wildlife Federation said President Trump has extended the NFIP four times. Now with a window to focus on the program, Congress has a chance to significantly reform it.  "How will it fare now that it's on its own?" he said in an interview.  Saks supports raising insurance rates but pointed out that Trump's budget proposal calls for cuts to federal flood-mapping programs. He also said the White House failed to draw enough attention to the perennially challenged program. "That's it? That's all you got, a few lines of messaging?" Saks said. "Where's the blue-ribbon panel? The gang of senators?"

Interior says $160 oil won't help most areas; industry differs
Margaret Kriz Hobson and Pamela King, E&E News, February 9, 2018
Record high oil prices aren't likely to attract significant oil and gas drilling in the vast majority of U.S. offshore areas targeted in the Trump administration's recent draft five-year oil and gas leasing plan.  According to an Interior Department report, even if oil prices climbed to $160 per barrel, little or no oil is likely to be pumped from the offshore Straits of Florida, the Oregon/Washington outer continental shelf areas or 10 of the 14 Alaska planning areas identified in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's 2019-24 leasing program.  Oil prices of $100 to $160 per barrel could boost extraction in the nation's most promising fields in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas.  Only marginal drilling increases would occur at the $100 to $160 price level in offshore Southern, central and Northern California; the North and Mid-Atlantic; and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  
These estimates were outlined in a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report released last month together with Zinke's plan to make more than 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf open for oil and gas leasing.  That report evaluates how much undiscovered economically recoverable oil and gas is likely to be extracted at oil prices of $40, $100 and $160 per barrel and natural gas prices of $2.14, $5.34 and $8.54 per thousand cubic feet.  BOEM's report also estimates the "net social value" of oil and gas development in the proposed OCS planning areas — a value reached by subtracting the government's appraisal of the environmental and social costs from the estimated economic value of the oil and gas.  Based on that equation, oil development in the Central Gulf of Mexico would have the nation's highest value. At oil prices of $160 per barrel, the planning area's net social value would reach $1.5 trillion. Exploration in the western and eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Chukchi Sea planning areas would have net social values ranging from $200 billion to $600 billion.  But if oil prices fell to $40 per barrel, drilling off the shores of Northern California, the Beaufort Sea and Alaska's Cook Inlet would have negative net social values. And development in the Chukchi and South Atlantic planning areas would have "negligible development value."  BOEM didn't calculate the net social value of oil development in the Straits of Florida or 10 remote planning areas along Alaska's western and southern coasts, explaining that those regions have "negligible development values" or "negligible resources."  Zinke's much-lauded draft leasing program targets a total of 1.7 billion acres along the nation's shores, of which about 1 billion acres are located in the Alaska outer continental shelf. The BOEM report calculates that 900 million acres of the Alaska outer continental shelf areas hold insubstantial amounts of oil or gas (Energywire, Jan. 17).

Industry pushes back
Oil and gas industry officials are rejecting BOEM's calculations, which they say vastly underestimate the amount of undiscovered oil and gas likely to be available along U.S. shores.  Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, said that the report ignores recent technological advances. She said advanced high-tech seismic surveys could find significant new pockets of oil and gas in previously surveyed offshore blocks in the Pacific and Atlantic outer continental shelf.  But in recent years, oil companies haven't been allowed to assess those regions. "You can't know what you can't see," Martin observed.  The oil industry continues to lobby for a chance to explore along U.S. coasts. In comments on the draft BOEM plan, Statoil ASA noted that "[a]s technology improves and economic conditions change, leases once deemed noncommercial evolve into viable drilling candidates with commercial potential."  "Because of this evolution, it is important to allow innovative companies the opportunity to pursue new leases and to test innovative geologic ideas and to employ advancements in technology for drilling and production," the Norwegian multinational oil and gas company said.  In separate comments, BP PLC argued that "[d]evelopments in the Atlantic OCS will benefit from the industry's latest advances and innovations in deep water technology."  "These technology advancements in real-time and remote monitoring, subsea infrastructure, directional drilling, and seismic imaging, to name a few, have resulted in safer, more reliable operations, increased efficiency, and smaller development foot prints."
For the near term, however, industry is taking a highly cautious approach to new oil exploration projects, according to a recent report by Wood Mackenzie.  Andrew Latham, Wood Mackenzie's vice president of research and global exploration, noted that the number of committed explorers has dwindled, with those companies looking for the most promising prospects.  "Looking to 2018, the industry will drill fewer, better wells focused on plays that are commercially attractive," he said.
Conservationists fault forecast
Meanwhile, conservationists are criticizing BOEM's forecast of increased oil and gas leasing at $160-per-barrel oil prices.  Ocean Foundation fellow Richard Charter said the idea that the price of a barrel of oil would hit $160 over the five-year time span of the Trump administration's draft proposed offshore program is a "pipe dream" (Energywire, Jan. 5).  And even if per-barrel prices climbed that high, oil would find itself "noncompetitive" with offshore wind, concentrated solar and certain biofuels, Charter said. "All of those prices are coming down," he said.  Meanwhile, the upfront cost of installing new offshore rigs remains a major barrier to entry, Charter said.  Conservation lobbyist Andy Kerr agreed that new offshore oil endeavors would face competition with comparatively cheaper onshore production. "Most of that oil offshore that Zinke's proposing to lease is not economic, and it's not going to be," Kerr observed.

Slowly but surely, South Carolina's incredibly complex shoreline is losing ground

Sunny day flooding could soon be history in Charleston as new valves hold back highest tides 

Charleston looking for funding sources to address $2 billion drainage needs 

North Myrtle Beach Plans to Conduct Additional Dune Restoration 

Deeper, wider Lockwood Folly Inlet could be the answer to shoaling, though more costly 

Van Oord – Reinforcing the Coastline by Sand Reclamation 

North Myrtle Beach Restoration Scheme Nears Completion

About a half-dozen Charleston residents seek to raise historic homes to cope with flooding 

Cooper Warns Zinke of Lawsuit Over Drilling

NOAA almost done collecting info about future of leatherback 

Interior chief meets with Cooper, local opponents to drilling

Governor Cooper talks offshore drilling with Trump official

Trump official discusses offshore drilling with governor, legislators in separate meetings

Interior Secretary meeting Carolinas' governors on drilling 

OBX officials seek local offshore oil meetings, but odds not looking good

Coastal Resources Commission February Meeting Agenda 

South Carolina beach-building line still in legislative snarls 

Cooper Seeks Hearings on Drilling Plan 

‘We have one ocean,’ Josh Stein says, threatening offshore drilling legal action 

Most voters want stronger federal flood defenses — survey
Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter, February 2, 2018
Most U.S. voters support policies requiring that taxpayer-financed infrastructure projects in flood-prone areas be built to better withstand the impacts of flooding, according to new polling from the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Moreover, researchers found that most residents in seven storm-affected states also strongly support implementing stronger flood protection requirements.  "The message from this poll is clear: The American public supports improved flood policies, and that sentiment holds across political party and geographic lines," Laura Lightbody, Pew's director of flood-prepared communities, said of the findings released yesterday.  The poll, conducted by the research firm Public Opinion Strategies for Pew, is based on telephone surveys of 800 registered U.S. voters from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a 3.5-point margin of error.  Additionally, 252 interviews were conducted with voters in communities affected by hurricanes and storms that led to flooding, including people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Responses from the "storm-affected counties" sample had a 6.5-point margin of error, according to Public Opinion Strategies.  The survey findings come amid a continued stalemate in Congress over how to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which has operated in the red for more than 12 years after payouts from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exceeded the program's revenues, derived mainly from premiums.  Meanwhile, experts have said payouts from the 2017 hurricane season could deepen the program's debt crisis — from $24 billion to as much as $40 billion — as claims continue to be processed from Texas, Florida and other states.  Congress this week took up new legislative efforts to address NFIP reforms. The program was due to be reauthorized late last year and has been extended under several continuing resolutions, with the latest deadline for reauthorization coming on Feb. 8.  The Trump administration has also made major changes to U.S. flood protection policy, including last summer's executive order rescinding an Obama administration rule requiring that federally funded infrastructure projects factor for a variety of flood risks, including building at least 2 feet above the 100-year floodplain.  In December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development officially withdrew proposed requirements meant to safeguard federal infrastructure investments against flood risk. Among other things, HUD's rules would have required new and substantially improved structures to be built between 2 and 3 feet above the 100-year flood elevation in high-risk zones (E&E News PM, Dec. 21, 2017).  Administration officials have said such reforms are necessary to ease regulatory burdens on property owners and spur economic development. Critics counter that such rollbacks are environmentally and fiscally irresponsible, especially in an era when flood damages are rising exponentially.

Among the other findings from the new Pew poll:
Nearly nine of 10 voters support "flood-ready building" policies, which would require that federally financed infrastructure in flood-prone areas be built to better withstand the impacts of flooding.
Eighty-six percent of respondents in states affected by hurricanes support a single, national standard for property sellers to disclose past flooding during a sale.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said they support the Federal Emergency Management Agency providing low-interest loans to states to be used to help reduce the risk of flooding, such as by elevating homes, schools or hospitals, turning repeatedly flooded areas into parks or open space, or improving storm drainage systems.
Seventy-six percent support weighting federal flood recovery funding to areas that take proactive steps to mitigate flood damage before a disaster occurs. States that engage in activities to reduce risks and lower recovery costs would receive more rebuilding funds. States that do less would receive less.
More than 72 percent of those polled support higher flood insurance premiums for people living in communities with repetitive-loss properties if local officials do not make investments in flood protection and mitigation.

Carteret County Beach Commission Meeting Agenda
February 5, 2018; Pine Knoll Shores Town Hall, 2 pm 

A state proposal could threaten Virginia Beach's neighborhood dredging program

Oceanic Whitetip Shark Listed as Threatened

Jones Asks Feds to hold Public Meeting in Dare County on Offshore Oil & Gas

Abandoned boats: A costly challenge for Brunswick County

Wrightsville Beach braces for two major insurance program changes

30 years of shifting sands (NJ)

Bird Key to get sand as part of Folly renourishment; Crab Bank still waiting 

New rules aim to make Norfolk flood resilient. But will they make it too expensive to build new homes? 

In using wastewater to fight sea level rise, will beer be an additional benefit?

What makes Fla. so special? Currents, geology, Zinke says
Pamela King and Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News reporters, January 26, 2018
Pressed by coastal governors, lawmakers and advocacy groups to explain his exemption of Florida's waters from offshore drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week offered a cryptic clue.  "The coastal currents are different, the layout of where the geology is," he said of the Sunshine State in a Sunday interview with CNN.  The Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not respond to requests for elaboration on Zinke's statement.  After removing Florida from the five-year plan, Zinke was inundated with meeting requests from state governors along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They all sought the same treatment as Florida, which Zinke tweeted that he took out of the plan immediately after a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott (R) (Energywire, Jan. 10).  Questions remain as to whether Florida is truly exempt. BOEM acting Director Walter Cruickshank last week told a panel of lawmakers that the secretary's exemption, which came in the form of a tweet, stood on its own and that Florida remained in the bureau's analysis. A proposed program is due later this year.  Either way, no other state has received the same assurances Zinke gave to Florida. Though he has had phone calls with coastal governors and pledged to schedule visits, the Interior secretary has stopped short of exempting another state from the offshore plan.  So what's so special about Florida's currents and geology? E&E News asked oceanographers and offshore geology experts to explain.
What do currents have to do with drilling?
If there's a spill offshore, ocean currents will determine where the oil goes.  Florida is surrounded by a "loop current" that travels through the Gulf of Mexico, down Florida's western coast and up the Eastern Seaboard. There, it joins the powerful Gulf Stream and travels across the Atlantic Ocean and over to Europe.  "If there's a spill in the Gulf Stream, it's going to travel along the East Coast, whereas a spill might be contained better in the Gulf of Mexico," said Antonio Rodriguez, a professor of coastal geology in the University of North Carolina's department of marine sciences.  Oil spills along the rest of the East Coast, which could be open for drilling under BOEM's next five-year program, could have the same far-reaching impact, Rodriguez said. But spills along Florida's western and southern coasts would be particularly disruptive because of strong channeling effects as the loop current squeezes through the narrow artery between Florida's tip and the Bahamas.  Strong ocean currents can also pose difficulties for day-to-day functions on offshore platforms, said Harry Roberts, an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University's department of geology and geophysics.  In the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the hairpin turn of the loop current and its powerful eddies can create logistical problems for offshore firms, shutting down production and closing off access to supplies, Roberts said.  "It makes operations more difficult," he said.  Current research shows that the western cliff of the Florida shelf is the area that holds the most production potential, said Steve Murawski, a fisheries biologist and marine ecologist at the University of South Florida (USF).  But that's exactly where the loop current could cause the most havoc, he said.  "Any oil spill in the loop current would transport oil rapidly around Florida and up the coast," Murawski said.
What's so different about Florida's geology?
A few things, ocean experts say.  The Florida landmass is just the visible part of the larger Florida platform, a massive carbonate geological feature that, according to current knowledge, contains little oil and gas.  "Florida's just not a hydrocarbon producer," said Albert Hine, an emeritus professor of geological oceanography at USF. "It's not for a lack of trying."  Florida actually does produce hydrocarbons, but only onshore and in relatively small quantities. Discoveries were made in South Florida in the 1940s, but the industry never really took off there as it did in other states. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, Florida ranked 23rd of 31 U.S. oil-producing states in 2017, producing 153,000 barrels for the entire year, for an average of a little over 400 barrels a day. Mississippi produced 10 times more. Any spills that might occur in Florida would be tiny and confined to the land.  Despite its unfavorable geology compared with other states, Mark Shuster, a former Royal Dutch Shell PLC geologist now with the University of Texas, Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology, says Florida's Gulf region likely holds pockets of significant potential, thus the industry's interest in exploring in its Gulf of Mexico waters.  Of the three federal Gulf of Mexico offshore energy leasing planning areas, the Central Planning Area off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama hosts the greatest amount of activity. Florida's Gulf waters constitute the Eastern Planning Area, the vast majority of which is currently off-limits to ocean drilling rigs.  But that doesn't mean Florida's offshore rocks are without some significant hydrocarbon reserves.  "With regards to potential on the Gulf side, there's quite a bit of exploration that's occurred on the farthest east part of the Central Planning Area, and some fairly significant discoveries have been made in what's called the Norphlet play, so Appomattox is a big discovery there and there are a few others," said Shuster. "That's adjacent or very close to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area, which includes the Florida waters."  Thus, "there's a high likelihood that there's going to be some petroleum potential in the eastern Gulf of Mexico," he added.  In Florida's Atlantic waters, little is known about the geology, but the industry is known to be much less interested in drilling east of Florida and more interested in prospecting off the Carolinas.  Deep waters off that portion of the coast are underlain by some of the same geological features as the Gulf of Mexico, but those regions are still subject to the rush of the Gulf Stream, said Hine of USF.
What does it all mean?
Zinke's decision to remove Florida from the offshore plan has largely been regarded as a political stunt.
Scott, Florida's governor, may run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson. Touting a successful negotiation with the federal government to protect Florida's coasts could be seen as a major campaign bargaining chip.  Nelson last week pushed back by blocking three of Interior's long-stalled nominees (E&E Daily, Jan. 18).  The Sunshine State is notorious as a swing state in national elections, sometimes playing an outsized role in determining who wins the presidency, as was seen in the 2000 election. Florida's largest industry is tourism, and its greatest draw the beaches and shorelines. Florida Republicans and Democrats alike by and large oppose offshore oil exploration, the one bipartisan compromise they never waver from.  Shuster of UT Austin noted the comparison to offshore California, which the oil industry reluctantly wrote off long ago.  There still remains untapped energy potential offshore Southern California, with studies in the late 1970s estimating upward of 5 billion barrels of oil to be had. But the political blowback from the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill has resulted in no new significant offshore exploration in California since those studies were undertaken. Companies can prospect from existing platforms and projects, but those efforts have yielded mixed results, and California has missed the shale oil renaissance almost entirely as the state's oil production continues to steadily decline, as it has since 1985.  "There are a number of prospects that were defined and remain undrilled when that area went into moratorium, and a couple discoveries made that were never developed," Shuster said. "I think there's potential, but it just has been very, very difficult for industry to pursue anything there."  California, like Florida, has been very successful in keeping ocean rigs away from both state- and federal-controlled waters for decades. California boasts the highest head count in the House of Representatives and the most electoral votes during presidential elections.  Ultimately, as BOEM acting Director Cruickshank's comments on Capitol Hill appear to indicate, Zinke's promises to Florida may be more symbolic than substantive.  The Miami City Commission yesterday passed a resolution to oppose drilling off Florida's shores.  "Despite Secretary Zinke's tweet, Florida's coastline will not be safe until the Trump administration fully reverses course on this rash and ill-informed proposal," said Salome Garcia, Oceana's South Florida campaign organizer. 

News Release - Governor Cooper to Trump Administration: Exempt North Carolina from Offshore Drilling Plan 

Cooper Promises Lawsuit Over Exemption 

Cooper: NC to sue if kept in offshore drilling plan 

Isle of Palms, Folly Beach moving ahead with post-Irma beach restoration projects

Naming and launching ceremony Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge (TSHD DC) Orisant by Royal IHC

Oak Island Beach Nourishment Project Raises Concerns

Two agencies object to DeBordieu groin plan (SC)

Waterways Commission Considers the Future of Permitting, Dredge Disposal at January Meeting

Barnstable County Officials Await Testing of New Dredge 

States call for the Fla. treatment in their case against drilling
Pamela King, E&E News reporter, January 18, 2018
The Interior Department's map of its five-year offshore drilling plan for the Lower 48 could soon look dramatically different.  After agency chief Ryan Zinke granted an unexpected exemption to Florida's coasts, the governors of nearly every state on the Pacific and Atlantic seaboards have asked that their waters also be excluded from consideration for oil exploration and production under the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's five-year strategy (Energywire, Jan. 10).  New York, for example, questioned the basis for the Florida decision but asked that the Empire State receive similar consideration.  "Your decision to remove Florida from consideration of any new oil and gas platforms before your Department has even concluded its public fact-finding process appears arbitrary," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wrote in a letter to Zinke. "Nevertheless, to the extent that states are exempted from consideration, New York should also be exempted."  Interior has declined to comment on Zinke's talks with governors, but states have shared the nature of their chief executives' discussions with the secretary. Nearly every state opposed to the BOEM program presented the administration with a plea to protect its coastal economy from oil spills and climate impacts.
Maine, the sole coastal supporter outside the Gulf of Mexico, leveraged its economic concerns as a reason to back the plan.  "The governor believes in a balanced approach that places a priority on protecting our environment and traditional industries that does not close the door on jobs and lower energy costs for Maine people," according to a statement from Gov. Paul LePage (R)'s office.  In every call he made to a governor, Zinke pledged to take a trip to assess the state's concerns. He always stopped short of granting additional exemptions.  With the exception of California, which claims full ownership of three of the 11 offshore planning areas in the continental United States, each state advocated only for protecting the waters off its own coasts. It's unclear whether, if Zinke grants the desired exemptions in the North Atlantic planning area, Maine could move forward with exploration and production in its own section of the ocean.  The Florida decision injects additional uncertainty regarding how BOEM will handle the three planning areas the peninsula touches.  Removing the state from the five-year plan could, for example, still leave room for exploration of "highly prospective" sections of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico planning area, ClearView Energy Partners LLC Managing Director Kevin Book wrote in a Jan. 11 note.  What "removing Florida" looks like may not be clear until the proposed five-year plan is published later this year, according to BOEM officials. In a public meeting to discuss the draft proposed version of the document, released Jan. 4, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, Straits of Florida and full South Atlantic planning areas appeared to remain in play (Energywire, Jan. 17).  Speculation about what waters will and will not be included in the final BOEM plan doesn't even begin to address whether companies will actually want to drill there, if given the opportunity, said Book.  "[S]hould the agency proceed with lease sales in accordance with such a plan in the current price environment, we would anticipate relatively low bids that reflect significant operator perceptions of political risk, and we would expect limited additional drilling activity," he wrote.  What follows is a breakdown of the opposition from states on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts:
North Atlantic
Aside from Maine, every state in the North Atlantic planning area has opposed the offshore program Interior floated this month.  Zinke promised to visit Rhode Island, where Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has advocated on behalf of the entire New England region's marine ecosystem and economy. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) also opposed the plan and is planning to speak with the administration about it during his next visit to Washington, D.C., according to a spokesman.  Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) was encouraged to see Interior reference his opposition in the draft report, said spokesman Brendan Moss.  "Governor Baker made clear to Secretary Zinke over six months ago that the administration opposes offshore drilling in the North Atlantic," Moss wrote in an email to E&E News.  Connecticut's administration and New York's governor raised climate concerns in their arguments.  "This is yet another disgraceful and unnecessary action from an administration that has taken us light years backward in the fight against climate change," Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said in a statement. "It stands only to hurt Connecticut's economy, our natural resources, and our coastal communities. We need a federal government that will stand up and protect our environment.   "Sadly, this president has once again put special interests before people."   Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) opposed the plan but did not call for a meeting with Zinke before leaving office this week, according to press secretary Brian Murray.  "For eight years, the Governor has been steadfastly opposed to drilling off the New Jersey coast. He remains so today," Murray said in a statement. "If exceptions are being made for other states, the Governor will certainly pursue the same type of exception for New Jersey.  "He also will consult with the Attorney General on additional steps to continue his policy of protecting New Jersey's coastline."
New Jersey wasn't the only state to raise the specter of potential legal action.  Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) has been instructed by the governor to sue the federal government if it tries to develop oil off the state's shores.  Every state in the Mid-Atlantic planning region has called for a sit-down with the Interior secretary. At least two states have gotten their wish.  Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) touted the $7 billion in economic activity and more than 60,000 jobs generated by his state's fishing, tourism and recreation industries.  "The health of Delaware's economy and environment are directly tied to the health of our coastal areas," Carney said in a Jan. 12 statement. "Delaware simply cannot accept the risks associated with offshore drilling, and we will continue to express our concerns to the Trump Administration."  In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) highlighted the sensitivity of the state's 22 barrier islands and millions of acres of estuaries.  "Offshore drilling poses too many risks for North Carolina and our coastal economy," Cooper said in a statement. "I look forward to the Secretary coming to visit our coast to learn firsthand the importance of tourism and commercial fishing and the damage an oil spill would cause."
South Atlantic
Offshore exploration in the South Atlantic planning area — or parts of it — could already be off the table with the Florida exemption.  South Carolina and Georgia are still staking claims for exclusions of their own.
Georgia's governor and some lawmakers and members of the congressional delegation have raised concerns about drilling off the Peach State's coast now that Florida has been granted an exemption. The Port of Savannah serves as a key economic engine for the state and elsewhere, but the town and other coastal communities are vulnerable to sea-level rise and other environmental changes.  Business and elected officials — as well as residents — in those towns want to keep them protected and preserved so they can continue to be spots for recreation and tourism.  It's unclear what Gov. Nathan Deal's (R) wishes are and whether he will seek an exemption for all or part of the state or look for another option.  "The governor has concerns in regards to opening up Georgia's pristine coastline and will convey them to our congressional delegation," spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan said in an email to E&E News.
With 840 miles of coastline, California stands just behind Florida as the state that would be most broadly affected under BOEM's draft program.  During a 20-minute phone call with Zinke, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made his view clear: New offshore drilling in California's northern, central and southern planning areas should be a non-starter.  Brown cited "more than 30 years of agreement between the state and federal government on this issue and the economic and environmental impacts of past oil spills in California," according to a summary of the call.  California is no stranger to legal challenges over offshore oil and gas development. State officials and environmental groups have waged multiple recent battles against the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Pacific.  Though no new leasing has occurred in the Pacific since 1984, hundreds of oil and gas wells dot California's coast. Many are clustered on platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel, the site of a catastrophic 80,000-barrel oil spill in 1969.  In recent years, critics of Pacific drilling have taken aim at how the remaining development is carried out. Environmentalists in 2014 challenged the use of fracking on the existing leases, arguing that Interior has never closely studied the impacts of that technique. The agency settled the case in early 2016 by agreeing to conduct an environmental assessment focused on fracking's impacts.  But the review wasn't good enough for environmentalists or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who is representing the California Coastal Commission in a new round of litigation. They say the issue merits a deeper dive — via an environmental impact statement.  California's offshore drilling critics are now poised to fight development on two fronts: challenging the use of fracking on existing leases and fighting off the Trump administration's thirst for new leasing.
Washington, Oregon
After joining California in a denouncement of Interior's offshore proposal, Washington and Oregon set to work on their own appeals.  Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) asked that Oregon's "people's coast" be given the same consideration as Florida. Zinke pledged to work with the governor and promised to visit the state.  Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made a similar request. "I spoke with Secretary Zinke today and reiterated my opposition to his offshore oil drilling proposal," the governor said in a statement. "I told him the concerns of Washingtonians and West Coast residents deserve [to] be treated with the same consideration and deliberation as those in Florida.  "Secretary Zinke did not provide that commitment, unfortunately. But this fight is far from over."

Actuaries say rising seas more damaging than heat
Daniel Cusick, E&E Newshed: Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sea-level rise now exceeds air temperature increases as the most important driver of extreme climate events across the United States and Canada, according to new findings from a coalition of insurance risk experts.
In the latest update to the quarterly "Actuaries Climate Index," experts found that the five-year moving average of climate extremes across the U.S. and Canada remained at a record high level during the spring of 2017, continuing a pattern established during the previous winter.  The index, developed by the American Academy of Actuaries and three partner organizations, provides a statistical window into climate change by measuring deviations from the 30-year average across six metrics: high and low temperatures, high winds, heavy precipitation, drought, and sea level.  "Of course, the balance of average temperatures and sea level are closely related. Higher temperatures are helping to cause higher sea levels," said Doug Collins, chairman of the Climate Index Working Group, which produced the report on behalf of AAA and its partners, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, Casualty Actuarial Society and Society of Actuaries.  Collins added that the changes in sea level "are still relatively small in terms of annual or even decadal changes. But they are steadily rising, and have been steadily rising for some time. This makes it harder to defend our coastal cities from storms."  According to the experts, sea level has been highest in recent years in the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions, from Virginia to Texas. But it has also been a significant factor in the Central East Atlantic (Maryland to Maine) and the Northeast Atlantic (the Canadian maritime) regions.  In recent years, major U.S. cities along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico have faced increased flooding episodes — from Boston, New York and Miami to New Orleans and Houston.  Just this month, a significant flood event in Boston was linked to the convergence of a powerful nor'easter and a record high tide in Boston Harbor, resulting in icy seawater flowing into parts of the city center (Climatewire, Jan. 10).  According to its authors, the quarterly index "is designed to provide actuaries, public policymakers, and the general public with objective data about changes in the frequency of extreme climate events over recent decades."  From 1961 to 1990, seasonal shifts in the climate index ranged widely, both above and below the standard deviation. But since the mid-1990s, the index has shown a mostly upward trajectory, with seasonal index records set in both 2016 and 2017.  Collins, a retired actuary based in the coastal community of Harpswell, Maine, said the group's findings are primarily intended to help insurance industry experts gauge risk to properties from climate change and its effects.  But the index may also prove useful to policymakers, including those working to reform and reauthorize the deeply indebted National Flood Insurance Program. Congress currently faces a deadline tomorrow to reauthorize the insurance program, but some expect the deadline to be extended as lawmakers work to avoid a looming government shutdown.  Updates to the index are posted quarterly at as data for each meteorological season becomes available, officials said. The consortium is also developing a second index, called the "Actuaries Climate Risk Index," to measure correlations between changes in the frequency of extreme events and economic losses, injuries and mortality.

Where has the beach gone?

World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list 

Isle of Palms Beach Replenishment Begins

Brunswick revokes previous stance on offshore drilling 

Va. senators continue knotty affair with offshore drilling
Kellie Lunney and Geof Koss, E&E News, January 17, 2018
Virginia's Democratic lawmakers want Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to exempt the Old Dominion from the administration's five-year offshore drilling plan, including the state's two senators who previously supported ocean drilling under certain circumstances.  "We note your willingness to listen to local voices in Florida with grave concerns over the risks of offshore drilling there," wrote six members of Virginia's congressional delegation, including Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, in a Friday letter to Zinke.  The request is the latest from several elected officials in coastal states, many of whom were outraged at Zinke's decision last week to take Florida off the table for offshore oil and gas drilling after meeting with Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Tallahassee (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).  "We ask that you likewise consider local opposition in Virginia's coastal communities as well as opposition from its Governor, Senators, and House members to a new five-year plan at this point," stated the letter, also signed by Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin.  Republican Rep. Scott Taylor, who represents Virginia Beach and parts of Norfolk and Hampton, told The Washington Post last week that he was opposed to oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of his state (E&E Daily, Jan. 9).
Warner and Kaine in 2013 pushed legislation that would have paved the way for offshore energy exploration and development off the coast of Virginia provided the state receive a portion (37.5 percent) of revenues from such production, similar to the agreement Gulf Coast states now have with the federal government.  At the time, Warner said he had "long advocated for additional exploration and the responsible production of domestic energy resources off of Virginia's coast" and that the legislation he co-sponsored with Kaine "includes appropriate environmental protections and an equitable formula for sharing revenues between the state and federal governments."   Kaine had this to say about the issue in 2013: "Virginia is well-positioned to be a national leader in offshore energy exploration. A comprehensive energy strategy — including oil, gas, wind, solar, tidal and other areas — can transition us to a clean energy future while bridging the transition with secure U.S. fuels we don't have to import."  Asked to clarify his position yesterday, Warner said in a statement that he has "always said that offshore drilling without a major revenue-sharing agreement is a complete non-starter."  He added: "The Trump administration has made a decision to exempt Florida from their plan, citing local concerns. It is obvious that other states should have that same opportunity. Like in Florida, there is a growing bipartisan opposition to expanded offshore development in the Virginia communities that would be most affected."
Kaine last week said the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Department of Defense concerns over military readiness and shifting local opposition to offshore drilling in Virginia Beach prompted him to change his position two years ago (E&E News PM, Nov. 16, 2016).  "I think it's a bad idea," Kaine told E&E News last week.  At the end of the Obama administration, Kaine voted against a proposal that would have expanded revenue sharing outside the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.  Despite Kaine's reversal on the issue, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said yesterday the change in the political environment since Trump became president has lawmakers taking a fresh look at revenue sharing, which has long been viewed as key to getting states on board with drilling off their coasts.  "The reality is during the Obama administration there wasn't much conversation about [outer continental shelf] production, much less revenue sharing, because if you don't have production there's nothing to share," Murkowski told reporters yesterday. "So, I think it does prompt more discussion about what revenue sharing might look like outside of the Gulf states."
Still, many of Kaine's concerns were highlighted in the Friday letter to Zinke.  "While many states have long histories of energy production, states like Florida and Virginia have robust economies based on other sectors like tourism, aquaculture, outdoor recreation, deepwater port commerce, and especially Department of Defense infrastructure," the Virginia Democrats wrote.   The lawmakers added that Virginia's coastal area alone "has more than a dozen [installations] across every service branch, including Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval installation."  They said, "While it is within DoD's mandate to work with Interior, any look at a map displays vast offshore areas in which drilling could conflict with military activities. In a time of relatively stable prices and booming oil and gas production elsewhere, the risks outweigh the benefits."  McEachin said yesterday he hopes "amplifying Virginia voices in our letter to Secretary Zinke will get Virginia removed" from the draft oil and gas leasing plan. "I would prefer no offshore drilling, but at a minimum, I have a responsibility to Virginians," he said.

A starting point
Since Zinke's Jan. 9 tweet that he intended to exempt federal waters off Florida from his proposed offshore drilling plan, governors of states including Washington and North Carolina have asked to opt out of the five-year plan. The Interior secretary said he would talk with any governor who submits a request.  The department yesterday began public meetings on the plan, kicking off hearings in Annapolis, Md., and Jackson, Miss.  Also yesterday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) penned an op-ed in The New York Times about why his state needed similar protection to Florida.  Zinke unveiled his proposal for 47 lease sales in different parts of the outer continental shelf from 2019 to 2024 — the most ever for a five-year planning period — on Jan. 4.  He said at the time he was open to tweaking the proposal. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks," he said.  The 47 lease sales, according to the plan, would include 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic region.  "Creating a five-year program is a very open and public process that actually centers around a series of public comment periods and revisions to the proposed plan," Interior press secretary Heather Swift said last week in an email.  Murkowski said yesterday that Interior's drilling proposal is the process's starting point.  "This is a draft, and this draft proposal put everything out there on the table," she said. "So, Zinke's getting all the feedback, good, bad and indifferent. He's going to weigh all that."

Oak Island asks to benefit from future dredgings of Lockwoods Folly Inlet 

Feds say they're happy to talk to you about offshore drilling, as long as you drive far from the shore

NC officials, environmentalists concerned over offshore drilling plan

NC Governor Cooper Seeks Offshore Drilling Exemption 

Elected officials react to offshore drilling proposal

Committee explores facilitating seismic testing, permitting
Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter, January 16, 2018 2018
While opponents gear up to fight the Trump administration over its plan to open up more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas development, the first battle may well be over seismic testing.  On Friday, a House Natural Resources panel will take up the matter, with drilling proponents vowing to make it easier for companies to conduct the tests to help them find oil under the ocean floor.  "Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way," said Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the committee's chairman.  The issue will get an airing before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which scheduled the oversight hearing to examine "deficiencies in the permitting process" for seismic testing.  Earlier this month, Bishop accused federal agencies of "bureaucratic dysfunction" after a report by the Government Accountability Office highlighted how long energy companies are forced to wait for decisions.  Bishop said that both NOAA Fisheries and the Fish and Wildlife Service, agencies that review seismic applications to make sure they comply with wildlife laws, lack consistent standards, with some applications received by NOAA in mid-2014 still under review.  He also criticized the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for denying six applications for seismic testing a year ago, after reviewing the applications for 948 to 982 days.  Critics of the current system say that the long delays leave little incentive for energy companies to move forward with projects.
Opponents of seismic testing say the hearing provides more evidence that drilling backers want to advance their plans even in the face of widespread opposition.  "Coastal communities, businesses and governors have overwhelmingly spoken out against offshore drilling," said Diane Hoskins, a campaign director at Oceana.  "What's flawed is the false promise that looking for oil —- that coastal communities don't want —- via seismic airgun blasting can be done without consequences," she said. "Communities don't want this, and it's time for Washington to listen to the bipartisan local voices instead of the oil and gas industry."  Bishop said he wants Congress to pass H.R. 4239, the "SECURE American Energy Act," as a way to reduce delays in seismic research by authorizing agencies to avoid "duplicative regulation."  The hearing comes after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this month unveiled a proposal calling for 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024, the most ever for a five-year planning period.  When Zinke announced the plan, Frank Knapp, president and CEO of both the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, S.C., and the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, said it had ignited "massive, universal opposition." And he predicted the fight would land in the courts, with the first battle over seismic tests.  "If those permits are issued for seismic airgun blasting, then expect there to be innumerous lawsuits filed," Knapp said.  The Interior Department plans to hold public meetings around the country to hear comments on Zinke's proposal, with the first meeting scheduled for today in Annapolis, Md.
Schedule: The hearing is Friday, Jan. 19, at 9 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.; Witnesses: TBA.

Fla. flip-flop not 'political favor' — White House
Hannah Northey, E&E News, January 11, 2018
The White House today defended its decision to withdraw Florida's federal waters from an offshore drilling plan, insisting the move was not a political gift to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.  "I am not aware of any political favor that that would have been part of," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.  Sanders touted President Trump's advocacy for energy "independence" and "dominance," pointing to his allowance of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and regulatory rollback agenda.  She also left the door open for additional concessions on the offshore proposal, saying the public comment process will involve ongoing "negotiations" with other states.  "We'll continue to talk to other stakeholders as we make decisions for other areas in other states," she said.  The Interior Department originally included the waters off the Sunshine State when releasing its five-year offshore drilling plan, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week tweeted the state would be taken off the table following his meeting with Scott.  The move fueled speculation the Interior plan is now on shaky legal ground as governors across the nation ask for similar treatment.  When asked about the White House comments, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said the creation of the five-year program is "very open and public" and centers around a series of public comment periods and revisions to the plan.  "The secretary has said since day one that he is interested in hearing the local voice. Governor Scott requested a meeting the day the plan was released and was granted a meeting. For context, Governor Scott was the only governor to request a meeting until yesterday," Swift said. "The secretary intends to meet with or talk with any governor who submits a request. If other governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely invited to do so."
A number of governors and senators appeared interested in meeting with Zinke.  Citing Interior's Florida decision, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington told Zinke in a letter today that "every state should be granted a similar opportunity to protect its marine and coastal waters."  Other lawmakers questioned the quick change of heart in Interior's plan, which would open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf for potential drilling. President Obama, in comparison, closed 94 percent of federal waters to oil and gas leasing in his 2017-2022 plan (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).  Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent Zinke a letter today questioning his decision on Florida and the role of politics.  "Your decision to give a last-minute exemption to Florida while ignoring over 10 other states who followed the proper legal procedures is a waste of taxpayer dollars and may violate the requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)," Cantwell wrote. "It also suggests you are more concerned with politics than proper process when it comes to making key decisions that affect our coastal communities."

Governor wants North Carolina, like Florida, exempted from new offshore drilling plan 

Gov: NC wants exemption from offshore drilling

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants offshore 'no drill' oil exemption just like Florida

Zinke cut Fla. from 5-year plan. Can he do that?
Pamela King, E&E News, January 11, 2018
The Interior Department's decision this week to withdraw Florida's federal waters from the agency's five-year offshore drilling plan brought more questions than answers.  Chief among those queries: Can Interior do this?  The answer: Yes?
After meeting with Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday evening, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted that no new oil and gas platforms would appear off Florida's coasts (Energywire, Jan. 10). The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's draft proposed plan, rolled out last week, would have opened nearly all of the U.S. outer continental shelf to oil and gas leasing.  "As long as BOEM adheres to its prescribed comment periods and addresses feedback from commenters, my understanding is that removal of all or part of a Planning Area would comport with both the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and the Administrative Procedure Act," Kevin Book, managing director of research for ClearView Energy Partners LLC, wrote in an email.  The fact that the announcement came as a tweet led Book to believe the withdrawal was less of a definitive decision than an indication of where the department is heading as it crafts its final program.  "I would not necessarily regard the terms of a tweet as definitive," Book wrote. "THAT, to the best of my knowledge, DOES NOT comport with BOEM procedure. Instead, the agency seems likely to incorporate Gov. Scott's feedback and proceed from there."
Interior contends that the announcement was not rolled out on Twitter. All official press advisories came through Scott's office.  The comment period for the draft plan, which was published in the Federal Register on Monday, is still open. Plan documents still include Florida's waters as among the areas under consideration for leasing.  Interior's reversal on Florida flies in the face of the processes laid out in OCSLA, said David Hayes, who served as deputy secretary of the department under former Presidents Obama and Clinton.  The decision should have the department's attorneys "cringing," said Hayes, who is now executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law.  "This incident provides Exhibit A that the Interior Department is treating a deadly serious matter as a political exercise," he said. "Even a cursory examination of the extensive public record regarding the potential opening up the Atlantic, the eastern Gulf and the Pacific to oil and gas drilling would have shown that a number of key states — including but certainly not limited to Florida — are dead set against drilling off their coasts. California, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and many others are just as strongly opposed."  State leaders took to Twitter to respond to Zinke's flurry of tweets Tuesday night.  "California is also 'unique' & our 'coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,'" state Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) tweeted, citing some of Zinke's reasons for excluding Florida from the program. "Our 'local and state voice' is firmly opposed to any and all offshore drilling.  "If that's your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately."

Tweeting a meeting
Tweets from state leaders are not official meeting requests from governors to the secretary, said Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift.  "The governor of Florida requested a meeting the day the plan was announced," she said. "By comparison, the California and Virginia governors hadn't requested meetings with the secretary. However, they are welcome and encouraged to do so if they'd like to voice their positions to the secretary."  Swift said that Zinke intends to meet with any governor who requests a meeting.  California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said yesterday during a budget press conference that he would be pursuing a similar decision for his state, according to the governor's press office.  "We are certainly going to ask for that exemption here, and I'm hoping that [Interior] will be responsive," Brown said.  Removing Florida from the program changes the game for other states that want exclusions, said Jim McElfish, senior attorney and director of the sustainable land use program at the Environmental Law Institute.  "Allegedly that door is opened by going through this long process," he said. "Whether or not the administration will pay attention to or regard other states' comments we can't really predict, but it's entirely possible that other areas will be removed."
Uneasy outlook
Observers of the fallout following the Florida announcement were wary of its ramifications for the process.  "This does not portend well for the department's ability to engage in a disciplined, transparent, broad-based and fair process," Hayes said.  Trade groups that last week cheered Interior's offshore strategy yesterday characterized the withdrawal as "premature" and "disappointing."  "OCSLA clearly outlines a deliberative, inclusive and lengthy review process before any preliminary leasing proposals are finalized," National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said in a statement. "The conversation to be had around the draft proposed offshore leasing plan should include modern technology, science and America's energy demand and security."  In a follow-up conversation with E&E News, Luthi said he doesn't necessarily believe the agency is acting outside its OCSLA authorities, but that Florida's removal from the program took away the opportunity for meaningful dialogue on whether to lease there.  American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said the decision precluded discussions of safety advancements in offshore operations.
"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.  For groups that supported a smaller offshore program, the withdrawal was encouraging — but frustratingly arbitrary.  "We're happy that Florida's out," said Nat Mund, director of federal affairs for the Southern Environmental Law Center. "We just think the same protections should be afforded to other states, as well."  Because there was so little information as to the basis for Interior's decision, it's also unclear whether the withdrawal will stick, said Mund.  "Could Zinke tomorrow tweet out and say, 'Just kidding, Florida's back in'?" Mund asked.

Nelson, governors want answers on Zinke's Fla. about-face
Geof Koss, E&E News, January 10, 2018
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is questioning whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's decision yesterday to suddenly withdraw federal waters off Florida from the department's five-year leasing plan violated administrative law.  Nelson, who repeatedly derided Zinke's move as a "political stunt" in a Senate floor speech this afternoon, outlined questions in a letter to the secretary, noting the general public is now being asked to comment on something "vastly different" from what was published in the Federal Register on Monday.  Nelson asked for details on what the secretary meant when he said Florida drilling is "off the table," including whether that means an extension of the current moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond the current statutory limit of 2022.  The senator also wants to know whether waters off Florida's Atlantic Coast are included and whether seismic testing for oil and gas would be allowed.  The Democrat, who is up for re-election this fall and expects a challenge from Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott, told E&E News he had a "bunch of questions" over Zinke's reversal.  "What does this mean?" he asked. "But I think the subtext is, is there some violation of the procedures of the federal administrative law by doing something that was so obviously a political reason?"  Nelson declined to offer an opinion on whether Zinke's actions violated ethics rules or laws, but called it "clearly a political stunt designed to help Gov. Scott."  During his floor speech, Nelson noted that the announcement from Zinke — made on Twitter — followed a 20-minute meeting with Scott at Tallahassee International Airport.  Nelson's letter seeks answers from Interior by the end of the week. The department did not respond to a request for comment.  Zinke's statement said, "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver."  Nelson said he would introduce legislation today to permanently ban drilling off all of Florida's coasts. Asked whether he would consider holding up Interior nominees over the issue, Nelson responded, "To be determined."  But he noted that he once held up an Interior official during the George W. Bush administration over its desire to drill off Florida.
Equal treatment
Lawmakers and governors from coastal states who oppose drilling quickly argued for the same treatment Zinke afforded Scott.  "If he made an exception for Gov. Scott, I'm wondering if he's going to make an exception for the new governor of New Jersey, or the governor for Virginia, the governor of Delaware, or the governors of Oregon, California and Washington state," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today. "You know, what's good for the goose is good for the gander."  Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Zinke's action "smacks of naked political favoritism" and is illegal.  "Exempting Florida but not another large coastal state like California has no rational basis, is an abuse of discretion, and is arbitrary and capricious," he said in a statement, referencing the legal standard courts often use when weighing federal actions.  New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote on Twitter: "New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke?"  California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said today he hoped to obtain a dispensation similar to Florida's. "We're certainly going to ask for that here," he said at a news conference unveiling his proposed state budget for 2018-19. "I'm hoping they'll be responsive.  "The Trump administration has been responsive on disasters. And now we see they've set the precedent in Florida, and we'll try to get the same exemption for California on offshore drilling."  South Carolina's Republican Gov. Henry McMaster today said he was seeking a meeting with Zinke to preserve his state's coast.  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has long supported offshore drilling, told reporters today that states should be able to "opt out" of leasing.  "I want to hear what my state says, but I don't mind opening up drilling if states can opt out and those states who want to stay in should get some revenue," he said. Informed of McMaster's statement, Graham said he would follow the governor's lead.  Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) defended Zinke's moves on Florida.  "Remember that when he laid down that draft plan, it was exactly that, it was a draft plan," she told E&E News this afternoon.  "There is a period of comment now for all of the states," she said, "and basically anybody to weigh in, and it's from those comments that the secretary will then move forward to define what this next five-year plan is."  Murkowski dismissed Nelson's criticisms of Zinke's meeting with Scott.  "I think the secretary had far more information than just a 20-minute meeting in order for him to develop this draft, the review, the analysis that went into it," she said.

Zinke's Fla. exemption stirs up states' rights debate
Kellie Lunney, Geof Koss and George Cahlink, E&E News reporters, January 11, 2018
It was the tweet heard 'round the Capitol — only this time it wasn't from President Trump.  "Read my full statement on taking #Florida off the table for offshore oil and gas," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted Tuesday, after meeting in Tallahassee with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who opposes opening Florida's coastline to leasing.  "Local voice matters," he wrote.  It didn't take long for Democrats and Republicans from shore to shore and in between to react to Zinke's decision to remove Florida "from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms," particularly given the strong local opposition to offshore drilling in states along the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific coast.  Several lawmakers, especially those from coastal states, criticized the decision to exempt Florida from Interior's draft five-year plan to open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf for potential drilling, while other states remain in play at this point.  "In Maryland, Republicans and Democrats are united on offshore drilling. We do not want it off our coast," said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), one of many members who emphasized that opposition within local communities to offshore energy development should be a deciding factor.  Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) asked Interior for clarification on Zinke's statement that Florida drilling is "off the table," including whether that means an extension of the current moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond the current statutory limit of 2022 (E&E News PM, Jan. 10).  Zinke said his thinking on Florida resulted from talking to Scott and supporting his view that "Florida is unique, and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver."  
But lawmakers from other states yesterday made the same claim.  "Our state and local leaders are unified in their opposition to drilling," said California Democratic Rep. Nanette Barragán, adding that tourism on her state's coast contributes billions to the state's annual economy. "I would expect nothing less than equal treatment from Secretary Zinke and anticipate his removal of California from consideration as well."  And so it went.  Even fans of the proposal, which is open for public comment until March 9, questioned Zinke's Florida exemption.  Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who favors expanded drilling, criticized the move, warning it's not an effective way to implement policy.  "I think it's a mistake," said Cassidy. "Because you send the message that if you raise enough hell, he'll exempt you."  Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the controversy is in part attributable to a major policy shift from the previous administration.  "Whether or not the secretary acted too quickly is probably a discussion people will have, but I would suggest that this is an opportunity for a process," she said.  "And in Alaska, when [former President] Obama took it all off the table, there was no process for us," she said. "We couldn't weigh in. He just said nope, not happening."  Obama closed 94 percent of federal waters to oil and gas leasing in his 2017-2022 plan.  "Under this administration, they have done exactly the opposite," Murkowski said, adding: "Obama took everything off the table, Trump is putting everything on the table. We will now have an opportunity to weigh in, decide what is appropriate, what is not appropriate, and then we'll move forward."

Zinke's plan
Zinke unveiled his proposal for 47 lease sales in different parts of the OCS from 2019 to 2024 — the most ever for a five-year planning period — just one week ago.  He said at the time he was open to tweaking the proposal. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks," he said.  The 47 lease sales, according to the plan, would include 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic region (Greenwire, Jan. 4).  Beginning Tuesday, the department will hold public meetings across the country on the plan.  "Creating a five-year program is a very open and public process that actually centers around a series of public comment periods and revisions to the proposed plan," Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in an email. "The secretary has said since day one that he is interested in hearing the local voice."  Swift also said that Florida's governor requested a meeting the day the department announced the plan.  "Gov. Scott was the only governor to request a meeting until today," Swift said, adding: "The secretary intends to meet with or talk with any governor who submits a request. If other governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely invited to do so."  North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) sent a letter to Zinke yesterday reiterating his opposition to drilling off the coast of the Tar Heel State and asking for a phone or in-person meeting on the issue.  "I look forward to speaking with you to share just how damaging your proposal would be to North Carolina and our nation's coastlines," Cooper wrote.
Administrative Procedure Act violation?
Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds Interior, said yesterday that Zinke's actions seem to violate the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how agencies implement federal regulations, and undercut the administration's offshore push.  "He may have really deeply hurt his legal position," Udall told E&E News. "He definitely undermined the integrity of the process."  Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Zinke's actions "arbitrary," noting that Washington, like many states, "has never been interested in [offshore drilling]."  "We have all sorts of reasons why this is a bad idea," Cantwell told reporters. "And what we certainly don't want to just find out is that it's really just political motivation," alluding to Scott's expected challenge to Nelson this fall for his Senate seat. Nelson also questioned whether the move violates APA.  Cantwell declined to comment on whether Zinke may have violated ethics requirements or whether she would seek an inspector general investigation, saying she planned to meet with panel Democrats.  But she said she believes Zinke violated the APA on coal royalties and other issues. "So, we think that it's definitely a very sloppy approach to managing the public resources," she said.
A perennial debate
The brouhaha on Capitol Hill and in statehouses yesterday over the exemption offered an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to ruminate on states' rights and the role of the federal government — a perennial debate between the two parties on many issues, including public lands, energy development and environmental protection.  "I do want states to be considered. They have to be a partner in this thing, and that really is part of what Zinke is trying to do," said House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who often advocates for greater input from state and local communities on federal lands management.  Bishop, however, downplayed the impact of Zinke's Florida move, saying that "a whole lot of people were reading more into this" than they should.  He stressed that Congress will ultimately come up with a long-term, permanent plan for offshore drilling that will address states' concerns.  Bishop said Interior has only limited authority to carry out the strategy over five years. He added that he has yet to decide if states should be able to opt out of offshore drilling but said states should have a "major" role in facilitating or approving any exploration.  He suggested his proposed "Strengthening the Economy With Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy Act" bill, which would increase energy development on public lands and waters, could be the best legislative vehicle for addressing states' rights in offshore drilling.  Bishop sidestepped any direct criticism of Zinke, saying he knew about Zinke's talks with Scott and continues to work with the Interior chief on a long-term legislative plan.  Several conservative Republicans from states that have or potentially could have coastal drilling said they still favor exploration, but they did not reject Zinke's move, saying they understood the need for states and regions to have a say.  "I would rather we not have that opt-out option, but I understand why he's doing it," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).  Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he's a strong proponent of offshore drilling that could potentially generate large revenue for his state but said he also is a staunch backer of states' rights.  "The problem you run into there is it does become political very quickly," said Meadows, who added that his state's Democratic governor could reject offshore drilling, but the state's GOP Legislature could then reverse him.  Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who has supported legislation to lift the offshore ban permanently, said he's open to some "exemptions" for states but added it would have to be a "pretty high bar."  He conceded that for many states, it comes down to the "tough question" of whether economic and national security gains outweigh the environmental and safety risks that can come with offshore drilling.  Loudermilk said he does not expect his state to seek an exemption, given it has a limited coastline compared with larger states like Florida.  Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman, chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said during a markup yesterday where the issue was debated that he wanted to "compliment" his Democratic colleagues' rush to defend states' rights when it benefited their own states.  "Something I've heard said oftentimes is, 'These waters don't belong to California, Florida or Louisiana. They belong to all of America,'" the Republican said, referring to a common Democratic argument.  Turning to Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), his colleague on the committee, Westerman said, "I'm sure Mr. Graves would love for Louisiana to have control of all the regulation and all the revenue that's been produced in the Gulf of Mexico, but I'm pretty sure there would be strong objection to that."
Industry groups decry exemption
Multiple industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and International Association of Drilling Contractors, issued statements calling Zinke's announcement on Florida "premature" and "disappointing."  "Secretary Zinke's remark to remove Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms is undisciplined and arbitrary and stands in stark opposition to the deliberative and inclusive process envisioned by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, not to mention it represents an apparent about-face by the administration, particularly at this very early stage in the process," said IADC President Jason McFarland.  National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi also weighed in.  "The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) clearly outlines a deliberative, inclusive and lengthy review process before any preliminary leasing proposals are finalized," Luthi said.  "Removing areas offshore Florida this early in the planning process prematurely curtails dialogue and thorough study of the possibilities for future development of offshore resources that could provide additional energy and jobs for working Floridians," he said.  API President Jack Gerard said, "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."

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Resuming where we stopped 

Zinke removes waters off Fla. from leasing plan
Manuel Quiñones and George Cahlink, E&E News reporters, January 10, 2018 
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said late yesterday that federal waters surrounding Florida would not be open to exploration, an abrupt change of course after the Trump administration proposed new leasing areas in the region last week.   Earlier this month, the White House proposed plans to open vast new waterways around the U.S. to leasing, including the eventual lifting of an eastern Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium.  But yesterday, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Zinke said the state's waters would be off limits.  "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Zinke said in a statement.  Democrats and environmentalists are interpreting the move as political because Scott may run for Senate.  "This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida's coast his entire career. We shouldn't be playing politics with the future of Florida," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said.  Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, called Zinke's move a "publicity stunt."  "Florida is at risk for offshore drilling because the Trump administration chose to put it at risk," he said.  Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, wondered whether the administration would "give equal consideration to all the other coastal governors from both parties who overwhelmingly reject this radical offshore drilling plan."  Republicans tend to support more oil and gas development, but some GOP lawmakers from states with sensitive coasts or military installations questioned the Zinke plan.  Among those expressing concerns are Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Susan Collins of Maine, and Reps. Scott Taylor of Virginia and Matt Gaetz of Florida.  Gaetz, who is a strong administration backer but represents a Gulf Coast district, said he had an "iron-clad" agreement from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to keep in place a drilling ban off Florida's coast.
"I got a commitment from the speaker that during the 115th Congress on a must-pass bill, we would preserve the moratorium that protects the eastern Gulf of Mexico," said Gaetz.  A Ryan spokeswoman only confirmed the speaker was working with Florida Republicans on the issue.  Florida Republican "Reps. [Francis] Rooney and Gaetz requested that we help identify a future vehicle to extend the eastern Gulf of Mexico moratorium, and the speaker agreed to work with them," said AshLee Strong.  Gaetz said keeping the moratorium alive attracts both environmentalists and national security-minded lawmakers. He warned that lifting it would adversely impact crucial military testing ranges in the Gulf used by Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.  "If I get everyone who cares about the environment and everyone who cares about the military, I'll fight against the energy shills any day," said Gaetz, when asked about potential opposition from the fossil fuel industry.  Gaetz said that besides Ryan's backing, he would also have the support of former Speaker John Boehner, who owns property on the Florida Gulf Coast. He thinks having Boehner in his corner helps his cause.  "Paul Ryan has never lied to me," said Gaetz. "Besides, Speaker Boehner is calling in from Marco Island; who could ask for a better advocate?"

Panel OKs controversial marine mammals bill
Kellie Lunney, E&E News, January 10, 2018
House lawmakers this morning advanced legislation that would expedite the federal permitting process applicants must comply with to protect marine mammals from harm during offshore oil and gas exploration.  The Natural Resources Committee reported out six bills, including H.R. 3133, the "Streamlining Environmental Approvals (SEA) Act of 2017," from Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson.  Lawmakers approved the legislation by voice vote. Democrats offered unsuccessful amendments that would have prevented the bill from being applied to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Another unsuccessful Democratic amendment would have had the legislation take effect only after science demonstrated that marine and coastal wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico had recovered from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Republicans, including Johnson, said the legislation provides a "much-needed update" to a bureaucratic permitting process while maintaining protections for marine mammals. But Democrats blasted the bill as another attempt by the majority to gut core environmental laws.  "Washington bureaucrats should never have the authority to halt coastal initiatives based on their own politically biased agendas," said Johnson. "Yet many permit approvals are prolonged, including coastal restoration efforts and critical naval operations, specifically for that reason."  "I am aware that part of the alleged justification for this bill is to resolve a conflict between marine mammal protection and coastal restoration in the Gulf," said the panel's ranking member, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).   "Both are important priorities. ... But we should be working on a bipartisan policy solution to address those specific needs rather than pushing this partisan, overly broad piece of legislation that will be dead on arrival in the Senate. This does nothing to aid coastal restoration projects or the people who need them," the Democrat said.  The bill, generally supported by industry groups and opposed by conservationists, seeks to reduce some of the permitting requirements associated with offshore energy development.  "Ocean stakeholders, such as the offshore energy industry, the U.S. Navy and coastal restoration groups have all faced similar costly and unnecessary delays under the existing overly burdensome and duplicative seismic permitting process," said National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi in a statement.  NOIA represents the offshore industry.
"Thankfully, the SEA Act will install a reasonable and enforceable time-frame along with an objective and politically neutral regulatory regime for seismic permits, and still fully protect marine mammals," said Luthi.  More than 100 businesses and groups, including Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council, sent a letter to committee members yesterday urging them to oppose the "SEA Act."  Opponents say the legislation would eviscerate the core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Among other things, they say the legislation would create a series of tight deadlines for federal officials to review complicated and dense applications and would require automatic approval for those applications if the deadlines are missed.  The "SEA Act" also would prevent the enforcing agency from requiring any kind of mitigation from the applicant if mammals are injured or killed during testing and would eliminate the requirement that permits be restricted to a specific geographic region, according to conservation groups.  Applicants for seismic research permits must abide by various environmental laws with different requirements to protect marine life, the ecosystem and any endangered or threatened species that could be affected by the testing. Some studies have shown that air guns used in seismic blasting have damaged marine mammals and upended their habitat and migration patterns.
Applicants must apply for an "incidental take" authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the event that marine life is injured or killed during testing.  Johnson's bill would mandate a 120-day approval deadline for "incidental harassment authorizations," would allow extensions of certain permits for another year absent major changes to the marine mammal population and would exempt animals already covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act from additional requirements under the Endangered Species Act if they fall into both categories.  
The bill's advancement comes after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made waves last night by announcing Florida would be exempt from the department's proposed plan that would make more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf open for oil and gas drilling, including in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Zinke met yesterday with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who strongly opposed including the state in the energy development plan. Several lawmakers from coastal states are now asking for similar recusals from the plan.  Some committee Democrats used today's debate over the Johnson bill to criticize the administration's stance on offshore drilling and sudden reversal on Florida's inclusion.  "I would expect equal treatment from Secretary Zinke," said Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who unsuccessfully offered the amendment related to the Pacific Ocean. Barragán said she expects Zinke to exempt California from the 2019-24 energy development plan now that Florida is off the table.  The provisions of H.R. 3133 also are tucked into the "Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand (SECURE) American Energy Act," which the House could vote on as early as this month (E&E Daily, Dec. 21, 2017).  So far, there isn't a companion bill or similar language to H.R. 3133 pending in the Senate.

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Say No to Coastal Drilling

Feds reset 5-year plan, but oil recovery is a '15-year story'
Pamela King and Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News reporters, January 5, 2018
The Interior Department yesterday laid out its five-year program to open up vast new areas to offshore leasing, opening up the possibility of drilling in nearly all federal waters in the continental United States.  But it will take the offshore industry much longer than that to return to its pre-oil-bust glory, analysts say. And revival will depend heavily on factors — such as the price of a barrel of crude — that sit squarely outside of the federal government's control.  "We've reached the bottom in both activity and the cost environment," said William Turner, senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "The operators are nearing peak efficiency in offshore operations. If we can get some stability in commodity prices, 2018 is going to be putting things in place to make for an exciting 2019."  Interior's draft program proposes to open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to leasing between 2019 and 2024 (Greenwire  , Jan. 4).  During as many as 47 lease sales over those five years, drillers would have the opportunity to buy up tracts and plot out their development plans. Presumably, those leases would expire after 10 years, Turner said, giving operators a decade to extract the underwater resource.  "It could be as much as a 15-year story," he said.  On a call with reporters yesterday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touted the program as a step toward recapturing some of the offshore wealth generated in 2008, a banner year for the business (Climatewire, June 26, 2017).  Offshore revenues stood at $2.6 billion in 2016 after oil prices bottomed out.  "We can do better," Zinke said.  The secretary reiterated how expanded onshore and offshore drilling will see the United States achieving "energy dominance" as domestic oil and gas production rises and imports fall. Government energy researchers believe it is possible for the country to become a net exporter of energy within a decade. The nation almost certainly closed 2017 as a net natural gas exporter.  Not everyone is convinced that expanded offshore drilling will be the boon the administration claims it will.  Jim Krane, a professor and energy expert at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the administration's vision of energy dominance or an energy independent United States is largely illusory.  "We've been hearing that same mantra since Jimmy Carter, I believe," Krane said. "None of our prior attempts to achieve energy independence — and what they really mean is oil independence — have ever come to fruition."  He agrees that greater domestic oil production has significantly improved U.S. energy security. With imports falling and a more diverse oil supply picture, it becomes more difficult for any single disruption or event happening in any one country to dramatically affect oil prices.  Nevertheless, the United States does not control the price of oil, Krane recalled, and the Middle East remains a dominant supplier of the fastest growing part of the world, necessitating U.S. engagement and security assurances for Middle Eastern crude suppliers for some time to come, he and Baker Institute scholar Kenneth Medlock argue in a new co-authored paper posted yesterday in the journal Energy Policy.  "The main sticking point, especially now, is that the oil market is global, and price formation does not happen inside the United States," Krane added. "Prices are formed globally and the Middle East has a lot to do with that because so much supply comes from the Middle East. So even if we don't import a drop of oil from the Middle East, we are still dependent on them."
State of the industry
Even if most or all of the Trump administration's proposed leasing area gets included in the final plan, it is not guaranteed that any actual offshore drilling would occur everywhere under a revised five-year schedule.  In a notice, Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC), pointed out that far too little is known about the oil and gas potential of many of the areas in which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management envisions offering lease sales. Barely any new seismic surveying has occurred off the West Coast, none using more modern technologies, while the Obama administration earlier put a halt to seismic surveys in the Atlantic Basin.    President Trump swiftly moved to reauthorize those Atlantic surveys last year.  IAGC complains that it can still take years for seismic survey companies to receive permission to prospect in federal waters. A recent review by the Government Accountability Office found inconsistencies with the way NOAA Fisheries and the Fish and Wildlife Service handle requests for incidental take permits in cases where seismic surveys could harm or kill marine life.  Former President George W. Bush’s withdrawal of the North Aleutian Basin remains in play.  
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
"While the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the agencies to make decisions on IHA applications within 120 days, IAGC members' applications for seismic surveys in the Atlantic [outer continental shelf] have been pending for 892 days," Martin said. "This unwarranted and continued stalling represents a complete bureaucratic breakdown in an otherwise straightforward process by federal agencies."  GAO recommends the federal agencies develop guidance for their staff directing how reviews are to be conducted and how long they should take. That agency said NOAA Fisheries and FWS mostly agree with these recommendations.  With or without streamlined permitting and slashed red tape, economics will play a much greater role in determining where offshore drilling occurs in the United States.  Offshore drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico, the world's busiest offshore energy hub, has collapsed by approximately 70 percent since the global crude oil price crashed beginning in mid-2014. Though oil prices have recovered to around $60 a barrel, Gulf drillers have not responded by dispatching more rigs to the waters off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Baker Hughes, a General Electric company, reported last week that one offshore drilling rig left the Gulf of Mexico, dragging that region's rig tally lower to 18 units.  The United States is also competing with far more offshore energy hubs than it had in the past as other governments have moved aggressively to entice rigs to their waters. With the rising oil price, data show that offshore oil and gas exploration has modestly expanded overseas while remaining stagnant in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (Energywire, Nov. 13, 2017).  In a recent study, Westwood Global Energy Group took a broad view of 2017's greatest "global high impact" oil discoveries and found that U.S. offshore just didn't stack up to the competition. The largest find in the Gulf of Mexico occurred in Mexico's portion, specifically at the Zama 1 exploration well, Westwood analyst Jamie Collard wrote.  Aside from that shallow water mega-find "much of the discovered volumes in 2017 have come from just a handful of high-impact wells," Collard noted. "Some of the largest include: Kosmos' giant Yakaar gas discovery in the MSGBC Basin offshore Senegal; a trio of oil discoveries in the offshore Guyana for Exxon at Payara, Snoek and Turbot; and Talos Energy's Zama-1 discovery in the Salina Basin offshore Mexico." The largest discovery in the United States occurred onshore Alaska, the assessment found.  Oil companies are still bidding on U.S. offshore exploration blocks, but offshore lease sales conducted for the current five-year schedule have seen much less industry participation than compared to the era of $100 crude oil. The most recent lease sale showed some turnaround and rising participation. BOEM hosts the next offshore bid lease round in March.  Katharine MacGregor, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at Interior, said she's optimistic the lease sales will draw interest from forward-looking companies.  "Leasing today is just the foundation stone upon which future production can be built," she said.
Industry cheers
Offshore trade groups yesterday signaled that they're ready to begin construction.  Despite the collapse of drilling activity in the Gulf, the active exploration and development off the U.S. coast before oil prices fell is leading to a surge in crude production from offshore projects. The Energy Information Administration and private-sector analysts largely agree that the U.S. Gulf will reach a new record peak daily oil production volume in 2018, exceeding the prior high-water mark by some 10 percent. Gulf oil production is then expected to plateau for a few years before declining again.  "It is time for a truly national discussion about increasing our offshore energy capabilities," National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said in a statement yesterday. "To kick off a national discussion, you need a national plan — something that has been lacking the past several years."  The American Petroleum Institute (API) predicted that Interior's program would help secure domestic energy supplies, reducing reliance on foreign imports.  "This new offshore leasing plan is an important step toward harnessing our nation's energy potential for the benefit of American energy consumers," said API Upstream Director Erik Milito. "The ability to safely and responsibly access and explore our resources in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical part of advancing the long-term energy security of the U.S. It will also encourage economic growth, spur manufacturing and investment, create thousands of additional U.S. jobs, and strengthen our national security."  Louisiana operators said they anticipated Interior's proposal would jump-start reinvestment in their state economy.  "The offshore industry has a $44 billion economic impact on the state of Louisiana," Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement. "Combining the offshore sector with related pipeline and refining activities, the oil and gas industry has a $70 billion total annual impact to Louisiana."
Environmental fears
Reactions to the proposal from environmentalists and opponents of offshore drilling range from disgusted to horrified. Activists are livid, and major protests against the proposal are virtually guaranteed.  Conservation and watchdog groups noted that the federal government's push for more development comes just days after the Trump administration revealed its plans to roll back or altogether scrap offshore equipment safety rules (Energywire, Jan. 2).  "The Trump administration's plan to increase offshore drilling will cause more oil spills and deadly accidents — period," said Christy Goldfuss, vice president for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress. "Eliminating basic drilling safety rules while pushing drill rigs into dangerous environments is arrogant, foolhardy, and will result in oil washing ashore from South Carolina and Florida to California and the Arctic."  Zinke is likely to field blowback on the plan from Florida's Republican governor. The secretary said he has a strong relationship with Gov. Rick Scott (R) and looks forward to their "dialogue" on the matter.  "We are sensitive to the needs and requirements of Florida," Zinke said. "We're also sensitive to that coastline."  But environmental groups were hesitant to trust a department chief who has made clear that "energy dominance" is his priority.  "Trump and Zinke are acting against the wishes of the American people in their attempt to expand offshore drilling and roll back permanent protections for America's public waters," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.  He hinted that a courtroom battle could be on the horizon.  "The Sierra Club will continue to stand with coastal communities in fighting back against this reckless plan, and we are currently examining our legal options to do so," Brune said.

Trump opens vast waters to oil firms. But will they come?
Brittany Patterson and Zack Colman, E&E News reporters,  January 5, 2018
In a striking about-face, the Interior Department announced yesterday that it wants to allow drilling in nearly all U.S. waters, the single largest expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing ever proposed by the federal government.  The agency said it will hold 47 lease sales in every region of the outer continental shelf but one between 2019 and 2024. The updated five-year plan, required by President Trump in an executive order in April, puts regions that were long off-limits to oil and gas development back in play.  Planning areas in the Pacific Ocean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico are included in the new plan, as well as more than 100 million acres in the Arctic and along much of the Eastern Seaboard. Former President Obama placed the latter two regions under a drilling moratorium in the last weeks of his presidency.  "This is a start on looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore assets and beginning a dialogue of when, how, where and how fast those offshore assets should be or could be developed," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a call with reporters.  
Industry groups applauded the vast expansion and said the plan, which opens 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to drilling, places America on its way to achieving Trump's desired "energy dominance."  "This is going to be an amazing plan. This really is a statement to the entire world," said Tim Charters, senior director of governmental and political affairs with the National Ocean Industries Association.  While the oil and gas industry cheered, analysts and even some industry representatives cautioned that the plan's signal may not immediately boost offshore development.  Low oil prices and plentiful supply from onshore plays in Texas' Permian Basin and in North Dakota remain a quicker and cheaper bet for oil companies, experts said. While the new drilling plan provides a plethora of options for development, investing in regions like the Atlantic Ocean — where little drilling has occurred — could cost billions of dollars in new infrastructure. Additional costs could also come from litigation initiated by state attorneys general and environmental groups, which fiercly oppose the expansion.  "If you do think you have a discovery there, how are you going to get it to shore? Are you going to tanker it in? Are you going to build a subsea pipeline?" an oil and gas industry source said. "You're looking at potentially billions and billions of dollars in some of these frontier areas that don't have any existing infrastructure."  That also raises a fundamental question for oil and gas companies: Are they willing to invest in expensive projects with long timelines as some analysts project constrained global oil demand and an emergence of climate policies?
In the draft proposed plan, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) noted that major industry players, including Chevron Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Statoil ASA and BP PLC, have expressed interest in unexplored areas. But it could take years to tap those regions for oil.  "You want to be able to get the resources to the market," the oil and gas industry source said. "The demand is going to be there, for sure — maybe 15 to 20 years down the road; it's hard to say. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out given the long timelines you need for these projects."  Some shareholders have pushed major oil and gas companies to disclose the risks their assets face due to climate policies. The idea is that as governments become increasingly concerned about rising temperatures, policies to restrict carbon emissions may follow. Reserves that companies had been banking on for future revenue could potentially be devalued, becoming so-called stranded assets.
Charters said he thinks the projections of a downward trend in oil demand are overblown. He pointed to a Wood Mackenzie study released last month that showed the emergence of electric vehicles would displace 1.8 million barrels per day of oil demand in 2035. Combined with instability in oil-producing countries like Iran and Venezuela, Charters said, there's plenty of reason to believe new investments will be needed.  "I think everybody has been dealing with that stuff differently," Charters said of stranded assets.  For now, oil and gas companies are putting the issue of stranded assets on the back burner. They would rather have the option of bidding on leases and deciding whether to explore and produce at a later date. After all, the understanding of oil markets and the policy picture could change significantly between now and 2024, the final year covered in the draft plan floated yesterday.
"While general assumptions about declining future oil demand are consistent with our long-term view of the energy transition that is underway, declining oil demand is not a condition we are experiencing today," Royal Dutch Shell PLC spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email. "In fact, it's quite challenging to keep up with current demand while production from offshore fields naturally declines year over year. Even if global demand were to remain flat, continuous investment — including robust lease sales and new exploration — will be required to keep pace."  That said, some of the lease sales and new exploration considered in the draft plan come with sizable challenges. The Atlantic Seaboard is one of them. There is strong opposition to opening the coastline to oil and gas development, with more than 1,200 local, state and federal officials having raised concerns that it could jeopardize fishing and tourism.  Opponents include the governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington; more than 150 coastal municipalities; and an alliance of more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families.
Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst at financial firm Raymond James, said those are just some of the factors that could deter most oil companies from investing in "frontier exploration" or places like the Atlantic where development has been limited.  "Companies are not going to drill just because the government said those areas are available to drill," he said. "There has to be an economic justification for companies to invest capital, particularly when it comes to high-risk opportunities."  Smith said Shell pursues "economically resilient projects that are scoped, designed and safely operated to withstand the unpredictable ups and downs of the oil market" and added that "deep water is a growth priority."  The main point of the draft plan is that it's important to maintain an opportunity to bid on leases and explore untapped areas, said Christopher Guith, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute.  "This isn't about January 4th, 2018," Guith said. "I think it's pointless to look at today's prices and think they have any material impact on industry interest 15 or 20 years from now. But as a matter of policy, that's not the government's job. ... The federal government's job is to provide a more energy-secure future, and making more federal energy sources available does that."
Guith said some areas are likely to be more attractive than others.  The Arctic already has drawn suitors, as the Trump administration gave Eni US, a subsidiary of the Italian energy firm, permission to explore for oil in the Beaufort Sea. The Atlantic might be a tougher sell, though. Drilling has been off-limits there for nearly four decades, so there's a dearth of information on what's actually beneath the ocean floor.  Interior has taken additional steps to reduce the financial burdens facing offshore developers in the hope of boosting investment. Last month, the agency announced it intends to rescind key safety regulations enacted by the Obama administration in 2016 to prevent another Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Earlier this year, BOEM slashed royalty rates from 18.5 percent to 12.5 percent for leases in water less than 200 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico. It was an attempt to "reflect recent market conditions," according to a press release.  Molchanov is unconvinced that deregulatory measures could increase interest in offshore oil and gas development.  "It's simply the fact that the economics of drilling shale resources in places like the Permian Basin and in North Dakota, those areas offer better geology and therefore better economics than exploring in areas no one has explored before," he said. "When companies drill in these shale areas, those wells begin to generate cash flow almost instantaneously within weeks, whereas if companies were to drill hypothetically off the coast of Florida, let's say, there is no infrastructure, and all of the equipment would have to be brought in from scratch."  It will take at least a year before any final decisions about leasing areas are finalized, the agency said. It noted that areas can be removed from the five-year plan, but not added. The release of the draft yesterday kicks off a 60-day public comment period. BOEM has scheduled 23 public meetings to gather in-person comment and will have to conduct a full environmental assessment.

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Zinke open to tweaks as plan draws strong reactions
Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter, January 4, 2018
Talk about a reversal.
While critics estimated the Obama administration put 94 percent of the outer continental shelf off-limits to oil and gas development, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said today he wants to make more than 90 percent of the OCS open for leasing.  But Zinke said his proposal for 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 — the most ever for a five-year planning period — is just a start, and he made it clear he's open to tweaking the proposal.  "Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period," Zinke said. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks."  The Interior Department said it will hold public meetings around the country beginning Jan. 16 to receive comments on Zinke's plan, which calls for potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 OCS planning areas, including off California.  According to the Interior Department, the 47 lease sales would include 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic region (Greenwire, Jan. 4).
Zinke said gas and oil drilling had "taken a backseat" during the Obama years but that would no longer be the case.  "Today we're embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America," Zinke said.  With the plan affecting so much of the country, the robust debate Zinke expects is fully underway and certain to intensify.  A key measure will be how Congress reacts, with members getting 60 days to review any final plan.  The Interior Department said 155 members of the House and Senate sent letters to Zinke earlier in support of a new five-year plan. It would replace the current five-year plan finalized last January under the Obama administration and scheduled to run through 2022.
House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the new plan would put all coastal communities at risk of an environmental disaster and open up all federal waters except Alaska's Bristol Bay to potential drilling, including areas along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts previously held off-limits by both parties.  "President Trump wants you to know his oil rigs are bigger and work better than anybody else's," Grijalva said today. "This will do nothing to put us on a sustainable energy path or decrease prices for Americans.  Trump's plan means more oil drilled here and then sold overseas. Oil companies get the profits while towns from Washington to California and Maine to Florida bear the enormous costs we know are coming."  In the Senate, Louisiana's two Republican senators praised the plan and predicted it will create thousands of jobs for their state. Sen. Bill Cassidy said the proposal would mean "better paychecks and opportunities for American workers and more affordable energy for their families," while Sen. John Kennedy called it an "extraordinary moment for American energy."
And in the House, Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he wanted Congress to make it easier for energy companies to use seismic testing as a way to help them locate new places to drill.  "Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way," Bishop said. Bishop also took note of the big differences between the Trump and Obama administrations.  "The previous administration's approach to offshore development started from the premise of considering as little as possible," Bishop said. "The Trump administration starts from the premise of considering as much as possible." But Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called Zinke’s plan "an outrageous attack on our coastal economies, culture, and environment."  "Washingtonians want to keep thriving on the coast and I will fight to protect their jobs, communities, and environment," she said.
Among interest groups, reaction broke down along predictable lines, with business groups saying the plan could lower energy prices and boost the economy while environmental groups feared the worst.  Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, said the new plan "unlocks the vast potential of American energy and expands our ability to export oil and gas to our allies around the world." "For decades, our nation has needlessly limited our own ability to harness oil and gas resources," she said. "This new plan sets a much different course."  The National Parks Conservation Association said it fears the drilling plan could put some of the 88 national parks on coastlines at risk, including Acadia in Maine.  "For the first time in decades, the waters, wildlife and local economies of coastal parks like Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina and Channel Islands National Park in California will be at risk to the dangers of drilling," said Nick Lund, NPCA's senior manager for conservation programs.

Feds should improve permitting for seismic surveys — GAO
Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter, 1/4/18
Federal guidance for issuing seismic research permits to companies interested in offshore oil and gas exploration is confusing, possibly resulting in unnecessary delays in some instances, according to a new watchdog report.Three agencies within the Commerce and Interior departments have responsibilities related to reviewing and approving seismic survey applications from companies seeking to tap the potential for oil and gas drilling in waters within the outer continental shelf (OCS), because of risks posed to the marine ecosystem.  But those agencies — the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries — don't always use the same process or time frames, which can lead to frustration for applicants.  "In reviewing applications for seismic survey permits, BOEM records the date on which an application for a seismic survey permit is 'accepted,' or complete, which may be weeks or months after an application is received," concluded the Government Accountability Office in a new report, released today.
"NMFS [NOAA Fisheries] and FWS, however, were unable to provide accurate data on the dates that they determined applications for incidental take authorizations were adequate and complete because the agencies' guidance does not specify how or when staff should record this date," the report says.  The report concludes that "without guidance on how to accurately record review dates, agencies and applicants will continue to have uncertainty around review time frames."
The complexity surrounding the seismic research permitting process is due in part to the various environmental laws — which have different processes and time frames — that agencies must comply with to protect marine mammals, the ecosystem and any potential endangered species that could be affected by the testing.  Some studies have shown that equipment used in seismic research has harmed marine life, so applicants often must apply for an "incidental take" authorization in the event that marine life is injured or killed during testing. The time frames also differ by OCS region, which include waters in Alaska, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
The politics of offshore drilling play a role, as well: Several communities on the Atlantic Coast are vocally opposed to any oil and gas exploration in their waters.  The Trump administration decided to reopen and revise the Obama administration's current 2017-2022 leasing plan, which was approved in January 2017. President Trump's April 28 executive order reversed the Obama-era ban on drilling in much of the Arctic Ocean and directed Interior to consider adding areas in the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.  That order also directed a more streamlined permitting process for privately funded seismic data collection in those areas to gauge the offshore energy resource potential.  Interior is poised to unveil its new plan for offshore drilling today (see related story).  House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is shepherding a major onshore and offshore energy bill through the House right now, requested the GAO report in 2016.  "Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way," Bishop said in a statement today.  "GAO's report highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of transparency and blatant abuses of discretion that has stalled greater exploration and development," he said. "Congress has an obligation to take corrective action, and with the passage of the SECURE American Energy Act, we will."  Bishop said that he expects the House to take up the "SECURE Act" (H.R. 4239) early this congressional session, possibly this month. His committee approved it in November. The bill, which has some Democratic support, includes provisions aimed at reducing delays in seismic research by directing agencies to avoid duplicative regulation.  GAO recommended that NOAA Fisheries and FWS "develop guidance clarifying how and when staff should record review dates of incidental take authorization applications and analyze how long the reviews take." NOAA Fisheries agreed with the watchdog's recommendations, while FWS partially agreed, requesting some flexibility by noting that sometimes dates need to be revised while working with applicants.


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