Waters Full of Drills

The evolution of drilling policies has been dramatic across presidential administrations. In the early 2000s, President Bush effectively dismantled the moratorium on new drilling off the nation’s coasts by opening part of the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling leases (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). By the end of President Obama’s administration, most of these opened areas were placed under protection while the western and central parts of the Gulf of Mexico remained open (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). This drastically changed when President Trump took office. The Department of the Interior is proposing a new plan that would open 25 of 26 regions (the North Aleutian Basin excluded) for oil and gas drilling leases (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). In addition, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is planning to roll back safety measures in the oil and gas industry (Iyer 2018; Epstein 2018; Mann 2017). The power, attitude, proximity, and interest (PARI) of the stakeholders plays a key role in the upcoming policy process of the proposed offshore drilling plan. In this paper, the varying degrees of PARI amongst pro-drilling advocates, anti-drilling advocates, and indifferent citizens, is compared with the PARI of the state and federal government.

Both pro-drilling and anti-drilling advocates are strongly interested in this issue, although in terms of attitude, each group falls on the opposite side of the spectrum. Pro-drilling advocates are supportive of these new policies, because expanding gas and oil reserves could provide a strong boost in the gas and oil market (Iyer 2018; Mann 2017).  The BSEE estimates that the nation’s waters hold 45 billion barrels of oil, so an increase in oil abundance could translate to reduced cost (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). Anti-drilling advocates counter by stating how two-thirds of the nation’s oil reserves are already open to drilling in the western and central Gulf of Mexico (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). They are also concerned with the associated drilling risks that could impact the health of the people and environment (Epstein 2018; Mann 2017). For instance, the proposed rollback policy is planning to remove safety measures that were established in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that resulted in the death of 11 workers and the deposit of 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean (Epstein 2018). Although drilling would occur about 200 miles away from the coast, any fallout from the drilling could destroy the beaches, pollute the water, and/or destabilize the marine ecosystem along the state’s coastline. Therefore, anyone who lives on the coast including anti-drilling, pro-drilling and even indifferent citizens are close to this issue. Citizens have little power or influence, yet their voice can drive the courts into action through lawsuits. Overall in this situation, most of the power lies within the hands of the government.

Amongst government officials, there appears to be a major clash of interests between the state and federal levels. Most of the states bordering the coastline are strongly interested yet unsupportive of these plans. States bordering the Gulf of Mexico are not as invested in the issue because their section of coastline has been open to drilling for decades. The other coastal states however are concerned about the proximity of the harmful risks associated in oil and gas drilling that could directly impact the state’s beaches and consequently the health of the citizens (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). Although the state government has control of leasing up to three nautical miles from their shoreline, the federal government owns the seabed and mineral resources 200 miles beyond state jurisdiction (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). As a result, at least 15 state governors in the coastal states are showing stiff resistance to offshore drilling and demand for exemptions (Tabuchi and Wallace 2018). The federal government consisting of the Interior Department, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the BSEE, and the president appear to be strongly interested and supportive of this issue, largely because of the potential economic benefits of expanding the gas and oil market. The federal government owns about 1.7 billion acres of seabed and mineral resources surrounding the United States. Within this area, they have the power to enact or retract safety regulations in the oil and gas industry and to place areas under protection or put up for sale. Although the federal government would not be in close proximity to the opened drilling areas, they have the influence, interest, and initiative to reverse Obama’s environmental legacy and expand the gas and oil empire.

After analyzing the role of each stakeholder in this issue, the risks, opportunities, and future directions are more transparent. If this plan is put into effect, the coastal state governments and anti-drilling advocates would strongly protest and resist the policy while the pro-drilling advocates and the federal government would reap the economic opportunities. We are likely to see a version of this plan implemented because the federal government follows a pro-drilling attitude and holds extensive power over offshore drilling regulations. However, the state government holds some power and influence over the enforcement of the policy, and they may enact their own policies aimed at protecting coastlines from the harmful effects of drilling. Although advocates do not hold any legal power, they can oppose or advocate for the policy through court by filing lawsuits. Overall, the conflicting values and interests on the subject of offshore drilling amongst these key players will influence the formulation, legitimization, and implementation of future offshore drilling policies.


Hiroko Tabuchi and Tim Wallace, “Trump Would Open Nearly All U.S. Waters to Drilling. But Will They Drill?” New York Times, 23 January, 2018.

Lois Epstein, “Oil and Gas Drilling Need More Safety, Not Fewer Rules,” Wall Street Journal, 12 January, 2018.

Rama Iyer, “More Drilling Rules Raise Costs, Don’t Assure Safety,” Wall Street Journal, 26 January, 2018.

Ted Mann, “Regulators Propose Rollbacks to Offshore Drilling Safety Measures,” Wall Street Journal, 25 December, 2017.

On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.

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