A supply vessel moves near Black Elk Energy’s oil platform damaged by an explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico about 17 miles from Grand Isle, La. in 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Trump administration on Monday announced an offshore oil and gas drilling proposal in the Gulf of Mexico that appears to mirror a plan offered by his predecessor a few months ago.

In one of his first acts after last week’s Senate confirmation, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed leasing 73 million acres off Florida, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi over five years starting in August. The offer includes more than 13,700 lease blocks extending three miles to 230 miles offshore, according to an Interior Department statement.

“Opening more federal lands and waters to oil and gas drilling is a pillar of President Trump’s plan to make the United States energy independent,” Zinke said in the statement. “The Gulf is a vital part of that strategy to spur economic opportunities for industry, states and local communities, to create jobs and homegrown energy and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

But the plan is similar to a five-year proposal by the Obama administration to lease 66 million acres in the same location, the gulf’s “Western, Central and Eastern planning areas” where water is as shallow as nine feet and as deep as 11,000 feet. As he prepared to leave office, President Obama banned drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for the next five years, but allowed it in the gulf with lease plans offered primarily off gulf states other than Florida.

Obama’s interior secretary, Sally Jewell, said the proposal’s leases were focused “in the best places — those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure — and removes regions that are simply not right to lease.” The gulf, an area that has seen intense drilling, would see more compared with the Arctic and Atlantic, where little drilling occurs.


A fire aboard the mobile offshore oil drilling unit Deepwater Horizon, located in the Gulf of Mexico some 50 miles southeast of Venice, La. (UEPA/U.S. COAST GUARD)

Like the Interior Department under Obama, Trump’s department pointed out that the lease terms would stipulate protecting “biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region.”

The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management of the Interior Department estimates that the outer continental shelf holds about 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The gulf was the scene of one of the worst environmental disasters in American history, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill off Louisiana that spewed about 215 million gallons of crude from a damaged underwater well.

The ecosystem is still feeling the effects, as scientist found hydrocarbons in 90 percent of pelican eggs tested a thousand miles away in Minnesota, a 75 percent mortality rate of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, a major drop in bottlenose dolphin reproduction and an untold number of fish kills. British Petroleum’s penalty for causing the explosion reached $61.6 billion in July.

“Bottom line, we think this is a terrible idea, whether it was done by the Obama administration or the Trump administration,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “It’s time to keep oil in the ground.”

But what the Interior Department announced Monday, Manuel said, is “not really news, it’s kind of old. When we first saw it we were nervous, but it does look like it’s kind of par for the course. It’s interesting politically that they’re following the Obama administration’s five-year plan. We expected them to throw out the Obama plan and start anew.”

Like other conservationists, Manuel called the gulf “a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry. All the onshore infrastructure that comes with oil and gas drilling is starting to ruin the gulf coast ecosystem. We would urge the Trump administration to change their mind, though we’re not holding our breath on that one.”