​Trump’s executive order on offshore drilling is no “turn-the-spigot” policy change

Image: Gage Skidmore

President Donald Trump’s executive order last week pushing the Interior Department to reconsider offshore drilling safety measures may have little practical effect on the industry and will stand a tough slog rolling back the Obama administration’s drilling bans in the south eastern Atlantic and Alaskan coasts, says an expert on energy policy.

“This is not a turn-the-spigot change to policy,” says Ali Zaidi, who served as associate director for Natural Resources, Energy and Science under President Obama.

Zaidi recently became a senior advisor on energy matters for law firm Morrison & Foerster.

In November 2017, then-President Obama signed measures designed to protect the environment, including a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic until at least 2022.

“There are many decisions that would need to be made along the way [to open up the Arctic to drilling] and all of them have to be rational and they have to meet the best science and best economic analysis, and they need to be responsive to stakeholder input,” Zaidi says.

He says that reversing Obama’s ban on Arctic drilling would at minimum be an eight to 10 year process, even if it were clear of roadblocks from litigation and stakeholders.

More likely, however, would be a slog he likens to “running through mud, uphill during a landslide.”

In less ecologically sensitive areas, it would still take several years before additional leases could potentially be put up for auction, subject to the usual checks and measures.

“So what are the chances of adding an additional lease sale in the Central Gulf of Mexico and be successful? I would say that’s pretty straightforward. That wouldn’t be that challenging or disruptive. They would run a process for two years, and that could move ahead.”

Zaidi’s bottom line is that Trump’s executive order is “probably good politics” for the administration, but will likely have little tangible impact on the oil and gas industry, given the economics of offshore drilling versus onshore resource plays such as the Permian Basin.

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