The Trump administration wants to open most of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas exploration as part of a controversial proposal that includes two potential energy leases in the North Atlantic region encompassing Maine.

It was unclear Thursday where, exactly, the Trump administration plans to offer oil or gas exploration leases in the North Atlantic, a region that stretches from Maine to New Jersey. But the plan drew bipartisan opposition from Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree, who are concerned about the potential impact that oil drilling would have on the state’s economy.

“As I have voted in the past, I am opposed to oil drilling off the coast of our state of Maine,” said Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District. “So much of our state’s economy and tens of thousands of Maine jobs along our coast depend on our marine and tourism industries. I am committed to protecting Maine’s unique natural resources.”

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voiced her opposition in a tweet Friday morning, saying “I continue to oppose efforts to open Maine’s coast to drilling, which poses significant risk to marine and coastal resources, our economy, and our way of life. “

The plan also encountered prompt pushback from New England environmental groups, who raised the specter of an incident similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill happening in the Gulf of Maine.

“Mainers understand that their future – their economic future and quality of life – depend upon clean oceans and clean beaches, and are vehemently opposed to opening the Gulf of Maine and the North Atlantic to oil and gas drilling,” said Glen Brand of Sierra Club Maine.


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the Trump administration was seeking to reverse prohibitions on oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The five-year draft plan he unveiled represents a dramatic shift from current policy, potentially designating more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf as open to oil and gas exploration. Currently, just 6 percent is open to oil and gas exploration.

In total, the administration proposed 47 potential lease sales to energy exploration companies nationwide, including two in the North Atlantic, three in the mid-Atlantic and three in the South Atlantic. The North Atlantic leases would be sold in 2021 and 2023, according to a draft schedule included in the plan.

Zinke said the announcement was part of Trump’s plan to move from what he called “energy weakness” to “energy dominance.” He said the plan would reduce the country’s reliance on foreign energy while pursuing “responsible” energy development.


Maine will host one of roughly two dozen public meetings held nationwide on the proposal by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. That meeting will be held from 3-7 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center, part of a 60-day public comment period on the proposal.

Zinke stressed that states and local stakeholders will “have a voice” in the final plan.


“This is a draft program,” Zinke told reporters. “The president clearly has outlined that the states, local communities and congressional delegations will have a say. … But this is a start at looking at American energy dominance, looking at our offshore energy assets.”

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, welcomed the announcement as a “bold and broad offshore leasing proposal” following then-President Barack Obama’s decision to continue blocking offshore drilling along the entire East and West coasts.

“It is time for a truly national discussion about increasing our offshore energy capabilities,” Luthi said in a written statement. “To kick off a national discussion, you need a national plan – something that has been lacking the past several years.”

LEPAGE supports more exploration

But the announcement also drew bipartisan opposition.

Republican Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Scott of Florida, Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Larry Hogan of Maryland expressed strong concerns or outright opposition to the plan, according to reports.


“I’m not in favor of offshore drilling,” said Hogan, the AP reported.

Maine state government was closed Thursday because of the severe winter storm, and aides for Republican Gov. Paul LePage did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Zinke’s proposal. But LePage is chairman of a group of five governors who urged the Interior Department to “include all unleased areas of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf” in the draft five-year plan.

LePage is the only governor from the East Coast to be part of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, which supports “policies that encourage a safe, responsible expansion of offshore oil, natural gas and renewable energy development.”

“The OCS Governors Coalition believes it is prudent to include all leasing options in the Draft Proposed Program, understanding that circumstances affecting leasing decisions could change during the course of the program’s development and implementation,” reads an August 2017 letter signed by LePage and the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Alaska. “Access to offshore energy resources will allow coastal states and communities to realize great economic opportunities.”


But Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, called the proposal an “outrageous” move that is going to engender strong, bipartisan opposition in Congress. Pingree accused Trump of “trying to undo anything the Obama administration did, but, even more so, trying to move us backward to an era that we have moved beyond.”


She said the administration should be investing in renewable energy rather than pursuing energy policies that she predicted could put Maine’s fishing industry at risk.

“Let’s face it, one mistake can be devastating,” Pingree, who lives on the island of North Haven, said in an interview. “Our fishermen already have a lot to deal with – ocean acidification, the warming of the oceans, the shifting lobster populations – and adding oil drilling to this is just heightening the uncertainty.”

Sen. Angus King also opposed the plan to expand oil and gas exploration.

“I oppose drilling off our coast. Keeping Maine’s water clean and bountiful is absolutely essential to our livelihood,” King, an independent, tweeted Thursday night.


The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that the North Atlantic region holds 1.8 billion barrels of oil and 11.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that is “technically recoverable.” That is roughly half the amount technically recoverable in the mid-Atlantic and a fraction of the oil or gas deposits believed to be underneath the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s northern coastline.


Zinke emphasized that the public comment period on the five-year plan is only the first step in a lengthy process involving “a dialogue between the states, between Interior and all of the stakeholders.”

Priscilla Brooks, director of ocean conservation at the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, called it “preposterous” for the administration to propose opening 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration.

The foundation has opposed drilling in the North Atlantic since the 1970s. Brooks said the organization will fight against plans that she said risk too much for a potentially small amount of fossil fuels.

“I just don’t see it happening,” Brooks said. “We have too much at stake in terms of our fishing industries, our tourism industries, our coastal towns. … We don’t need to gamble New England’s oceans, wildlife and coastal communities by drilling for oil.”

Contact Kevin Miller at 791-6312 or at:

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