Interior delays offshore drilling plan, citing judge’s decision

Joe Balash is assistant secretary of Interior for Land and Minerals Management. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic and throughout U.S. coastal waters is on indefinite hold. That’s according to a Wall Street Journal story quoting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

Acknowledgment of the delay follows a court order last month from U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason. It blocks new lease sales in parts of the Arctic and the Atlantic that President Obama closed to drilling.

Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash said the department has stopped active work on the national offshore leasing plan in light of Gleason’s order.

“That’s created a variable that we have to figure out – what to do and how to do our next step,” Balash said. “Because Alaska is a big piece of the puzzle for us.”

Balash said the Arctic is key to the plan because of its oil and gas potential. And in Alaska, unlike most other coastal states, the governor does not oppose offshore drilling.

As Balash sees it, Secretary Bernhardt’s remarks are consistent with what the secretary has been saying for weeks.

“I don’t think we view this as a big pause, as maybe has been reported, but it is going to require some decision-making,” he said.

The draft plan Interior issued in January 2018 called for lease sales in the Beaufort Sea as soon as this year.