Bernhardt denies offshore drilling plan shelved ‘indefinitely’
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Tuesday disputed a news story saying that he had “indefinitely” shelved the department’s work on an offshore oil and gas leasing plan that could open up vast new coastal areas for energy production, but he indicated work on a proposal could stretch out for years.
At a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior’s budget, Bernhardt said he was in no hurry to publish a five-year plan that former Secretary Ryan Zinke had originally aimed to release last year, but which was delayed after criticism from coastal governors and lawmakers from both parties.
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“From my view, I’m grappling with what is the best pathway, what makes the most sense,” he said. “I haven’t made a decision on that yet. From my perspective, we have a plan in place until 2022. So I have a little time to get it straight.”
Bernhardt said he was still deciding how to proceed after a U.S. District Court decision in March struck down President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. That court ruling would likely be appealed, Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt drew questions from lawmakers about an interview he gave the Wall Street Journal for an article, the headline of which said Interior’s next five-year drilling plan had been “sidelined indefinitely.” The article surprised many in the drilling industry, but Bernhardt said the headline had misinterpreted his comments.
“I don’t think that article quotes me as saying ‘sidelined indefinitely,” Bernhardt said in response to a question from Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). “Those are not words I would have used.”
Still, he said, lawmakers should not expect to see any new proposal soon.
“I’ll promise you that a plan isn’t imminent at this time,” Bernhardt added.
Bernhardt also said he saw no reason for Interior to halt work considering whether to grant permits to companies seeking to conduct seismic surveys off the Atlantic coast. Oil companies are anxious to do the surveys to measure potential oil reserves in the area, though environmentalists have said the sonic blasts from the tests harm marine life.
“My own view is we shouldn’t be afraid of information,” Bernhardt said. “If we can do it and it can be done lawfully and it can be done responsibly, the data itself isn’t something we should be afraid of.”