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US Proposes Opening Most Coastal Waters for Oil Drilling

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The United States has announced plans to open much of the country’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.

The Interior Department released the five-year plan last week. It is much more expansive than one suggested by President Donald Trump in April of last year.

The Interior Department proposed to publicly sell 47 possible drilling rights in much of the U.S. continental shelf. That is a large increase from the 11 lease sales during the presidency of Barack Obama.

The draft of the plan would permit the sale of drilling leases in 25 of 26 offshore planning areas. The one area identified as off-limits is the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands. The area was given special protection by former President George W. Bush.

The strongest energy superpower in the world

FILE - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
FILE - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters last week that the United States is, in his words, “going to become the strongest energy superpower this world has ever known.”

Zinke also said that he wants to grow the country’s offshore energy industry instead of having to depend on foreign energy resources.

“We will produce enough energy to meet our needs at home, and we will export enough energy to lead the world,' he said.

The Interior Department’s broad proposal is meant to begin with a 60-day public comment period. The Interior Department is responsible for setting the start date of the comment period.

Zinke said in a press release that “not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

Some critics of the plan have already expressed their feelings. The opponents include environmental groups and governors from coastal states.

When the plan was first released, waters off Florida’s coastline were included. However, Zinke announced on Tuesday that he is now banning oil and gas drilling off the Florida coast.

In a statement, Zinke said, “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

The Interior Secretary admitted that Florida Governor Rick Scott pressured him to amend his decision.

The Defense Department has also expressed concerns about drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where the U.S. Navy performs exercises.

The Trump administration is currently operating under a plan set up by the Obama administration. The plan is for the years 2017 to 2022. Obama had proposed drilling off the Atlantic Coast and off Alaska's Arctic coast. However, both proposals were removed in the final version of the plan.

Last year, Zinke took a number of steps to make it easier to lease and explore for oil on land and in water. He removed some safety laws that were put into place after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire after an oil well explosion. Eleven people were killed. The resulting oil spill – nearly 5 billion barrels over five months -- was the worst offshore oil spill in American history.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

FILE - The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico, April 21, 2010, after an explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.
FILE - The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico, April 21, 2010, after an explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.

Marissa Melton reported this story for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted her story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you think coasts should be used for energy resources or protected? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

appropriate - adj. especially suitable or compatible

continental shelf - n. the area of seabed around a large landmass where the sea is relatively shallow compared with the open ocean. The continental shelf is geologically part of the continental crust.

broad - adj. covering a large number and wide scope of subjects or areas.​

drilling - v. produce (a hole) in something by or as if by boring with a drill.​

lease - n. a contract by which one conveys real estate, equipment, or facilities for a specified term and for a specified rent

marine ecosystems - n. a complex of living organisms in the ocean environement

offshore - adv. at a distance from the shore

reliant - adj. having reliance on something or someone​

tourism - n. the practice of traveling for recreation​

unique - adj. being the only one​

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