We appreciate the fact that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke believes Maine’s new national monument, Katahdin Woods and Waters, is worthy of protection and, in fact, should be elevated to national park status. However, his rationale for reviewing and likely modifying other national monument designations is concerning because it does not match reality.
Zinke recently said the U.S. should increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands to gain “energy dominance” in the world.
There are several problems with viewing increased drilling on protected federal lands as the solution.
For one, it simply is not necessary. The amount of oil produced in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, though it has dropped off from a peak in April 2015. Likewise, oil production on federal lands almost doubled from 2007 to 2015, before dropping in 2016. The declines were due to low oil prices, not a lack of access to oil.
The picture is different for natural gas. U.S. production of natural gas has increased by about a third over the last decade, while the amount of natural gas produced from federal lands has held fairly steady.
Meanwhile, the consumption of petroleum products in the U.S. has remained fairly steady for the last decade, despite population and economic growth and low gas prices. Among the reasons are that automobiles have become more fuel efficient and people driving less. These trends are unlikely to reverse. This week, Volvo announced that all of its cars will have hybrid or electric motors after 2019.
Second, oil companies are abandoning offshore drilling. As oil prices have dropped, oil companies are looking for ways to cut costs. As a result, they are shifting exploration and production away from expensive offshore projects to those onshore. They are drilling new wells and perfecting ways to extract more oil and gas from existing onshore wells.
By 2020, Chevron, the nation’s second largest oil company, expects to more than double production from just west Texas alone. ConocoPhillips said it will end deepwater exploration this year and will sell offshore leases where it does not plan to drill.
Still, Zinke has placed a lot of emphasis on increasing offshore oil drilling in federally owned areas, citing it as reasons to reconsider marine monument designations. This drilling will bring badly needed revenue into federal coffers, which could be used to maintain national parks, Zinke argues.
However, there will be no increased revenue if oil companies don’t want to drill offshore.
It makes no sense to remove protections from marine national monuments in the name of helping an industry that has no interest in offshore drilling.
This is especially true of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of Massachusetts. Former President Barack Obama designated the area a national monument last September, creating the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Zinke had a tour of the monument during a visit to New England last month.
Although Zinke said he recognized the importance of the seamounts and canyons as a place for needed research and other scientific endeavors, he was more concerned with jobs.
There won’t be offshore energy jobs, or revenue, however, if the energy industry has forgone this expensive exploration. Undoing federal protection of this marine preserve in the name of promoting a vanishing industry is counterproductive.