William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


The Trump administration’s Executive orders on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth (“Energy Independence Order”) and Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy (“Offshore Energy Order”) set the stage to open over 90% of the continental shelf to offshore oil drilling from 2019–2024. The Offshore Energy Order ignores the statutory requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) and the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) to balance energy exploration with safeguards for marine life and the environment. We analyze the lack of express authority in OCSLA for the President to rescind its protective designations, in comparison to other laws that grant such authority.

This Article discusses the traditional administrative processes for assessing environmental concerns with lease proposals, and contrasts those with the Trump administration’s proposals for streamlining the process. We examine the volatility of oil prices and the impact of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on the viability of offshore leasing. While most mayors, governors, and senators of affected states oppose further offshore drilling, the Trump administration’s proposals ignore these stakeholders. This Article emphasizes the importance of minimizing environmental risks of offshore oil exploration and drilling, including threats to marine mammals and the fishing industry, as well as climate change implications of expanding fossil fuel exploration and use. More safety oversight is needed (including a reversal of the Trump administration’s discontinuance of the Methane Waste Rule, the Well Control Rule, and third-party audits of oil well blowout preventers). This Article concludes with the recommendation that it is imprudent to expand offshore drilling when conservation for future generations and protection of the environment is a more prudent course.