President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 28 that would allow for the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling along portions of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, but does not explicitly mention the Central Coast.
The executive order, “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” was proposed to reduce the amount of oil imported from overseas and to increase economic growth in the United States.
“I think it’s putting America last when you consider that the world is moving forward with exploring new renewable energy sources,” Rep. Salud Carbajal said.
The order will undo former President Barack Obama’s plan to prohibit offshore drilling off the coasts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and California coast from 2017 to 2022.
“I don’t enjoy going down to the Santa Barbara Channel and looking at a bunch of rigs in the ocean,” Dean Wendt, Cal Poly’s director of the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences, said. “There’s a huge aesthetic impact that happens when we build these rigs. They call it the ‘view shed’ and that alters peoples’ experiences with [the] coastline as well.”
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is it ecologically possible to do oil and gas development off the coast without adverse consequences?’ So far, history tells us no,” environmental policy and planning professor Greg Brown said.
Brown and other Cal Poly biological sciences professors cited the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In the Exxon Valdez incident, more than 4,000 sea otters, birds and ducks were killed. In addition to the toll the spill took on marine life, tourism also suffered.
After the Deep Water Horizon spill, a study conducted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism found that 26 percent of people planning to visit canceled or delayed their trips.
While opponents of the order say Trump’s policy will create more threats to the environment and the tourism industry, proponents say that expanding the oil and gas industry will stimulate job growth. As of April 2017, the oil and gas extraction industry employed 181,000 people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the executive order, Trump says the expansion will “benefit American families and help reinvigorate American manufacturing and job growth.”
However, job growth has been increasing in the renewable energy field as well. In 2016, the solar workforce rose by 26 percent while wind energy employment increased by 32 percent, according to the 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER).
A May 2 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that wind energy accounted for the greatest source of “operating electric generating capacity in the United States in 2016.”
“Most of the public supports economic growth, but what it doesn’t like is putting development in places that are sensitive,” Brown said.
Part of the executive order calls for a review of current marine sanctuaries and prohibits additional sanctuaries from being created, like the proposed Chumash National Heritage, which would stretch 10,000 square miles from Cambria to Gaviota.
“He’s going after sanctuaries in particular because he knows they protect us from offshore drilling,” director of the San Luis Obispo Sierra Club chapter Andrew Christie said.
Under the Obama administration, marine sanctuaries were expanded across the nation from the East to West Coast. Before he left office, Obama multiplied the protected area of Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by nearly four times, to 582,578 square miles of land and sea.
While the Central Coast’s waters are not named in this order, local political leaders don’t see value in the proposed vision for the other designated planning areas in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
“There’s no good logic behind what he is doing. He is placing politics over good policy for our country,” Carbajal said.