An offshore oil rig

Five-Year Oil and Gas Leasing Plan


  • Jan­u­ary 2017

    In Jan­u­ary 2017, fol­low­ing exten­sive envi­ron­men­tal review and pub­lic out­reach, the Inte­ri­or Depart­ment (DOI) final­ized a five-year plan, cov­er­ing the peri­od of 2017 to 2022, that sched­ules poten­tial off­shore oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mex­i­co and in a lim­it­ed area off­shore of Alaska.

  • April 2017

    A few months lat­er, in April 2017, Pres­i­dent Trump ordered the Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or to revise the five-year plan and open up addi­tion­al off­shore areas to oil and gas leas­ing to the max­i­mum extent per­mit­ted by law.”

  • August 2017

    The attor­neys gen­er­al of Cal­i­for­nia and Mass­a­chu­setts filed com­ments in August in response to the Bureau of Ocean Ener­gy Man­age­men­t’s (BOEM) July 2017 request for infor­ma­tion and com­ments on its intent to devel­op a new five-year oil and gas leas­ing plan. Mass­a­chu­setts’ com­ments high­light­ed the dev­as­tat­ing impact that an oil spill could have on the state’s com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try and tourism econ­o­my, while Cal­i­for­ni­a’s com­ments stressed that the oil and gas indus­try lacks an inter­est in drilling off the Cal­i­forn­ian shore.

  • Jan­u­ary 2018

    Sec­re­tary Zinke released a pro­posed replace­ment five-year plan in Jan­u­ary 2018 that would open up more than 90% of the U.S.‘s off­shore waters for oil and gas explo­ration and devel­op­ment, includ­ing off the coasts of east and west coast states that strong­ly object to any such devel­op­ment off their shores. Sev­er­al attor­neys gen­er­al released state­ments express­ing their strong oppo­si­tion to expand­ed off­shore drilling oppor­tu­ni­ties, and sev­er­al are voic­ing their objec­tions in pub­lic meet­ings that are being held in con­nec­tion with the proposal.

  • Feb­ru­ary 2018

    In Feb­ru­ary 2018, North Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Josh Stein led a coali­tion of 12 attor­neys gen­er­al from the Atlantic and Pacif­ic coasts in sub­mit­ting ini­tial com­ments in oppo­si­tion to the pro­posed five-year plan as the plan threat­ens the unique ecolo­gies of their shores and coastal-sup­port­ed jobs. Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son sent a let­ter to Sec­re­tary Zinke in Feb­ru­ary 2018 express­ing his unequiv­o­cal oppo­si­tion” to the five-year plan as it is harm­ful to the econ­o­my and beau­ty of Wash­ing­ton’s coastline.

  • March 2018

    In March 2018, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh led a coali­tion of 12 attor­neys gen­er­al in sub­mit­ting com­ments oppos­ing the pro­posed five-year plan. The attor­neys gen­er­al from Atlantic and Pacif­ic states urged BOEM to fol­low Interior’s past prac­tice of not impos­ing off­shore drilling over state oppo­si­tion. The let­ter not­ed that even small-scale oil spills would cause sig­nif­i­cant harm to the envi­ron­men­tal­ly sig­nif­i­cant and sen­si­tive waters off of both coasts. The attor­neys gen­er­al of Cal­i­for­nia, Mass­a­chu­setts, New York, Rhode Island, Vir­ginia, and Wash­ing­ton sent their own state-spe­cif­ic com­ments in oppo­si­tion to the five-year plan in addi­tion to sign­ing on to the coali­tion letter.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, Pres­i­dent Trump placed a 10-year mora­to­ri­um on oil and gas leas­ing of fed­er­al waters off the coasts of Flori­da, Geor­gia, South Car­oli­na, and North Car­oli­na. This ban applies to all forms of off­shore ener­gy, includ­ing off­shore wind.

Seis­mic Surveys


  • June 2017

    As the first step in the process of per­mit­ting off­shore drilling in the Atlantic, the Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice (NMFS), in June 2017, released a pro­pos­al to autho­rize seis­mic sur­veys in the Atlantic Ocean. A coali­tion of nine state attor­neys gen­er­al sub­mit­ted com­ments in July oppos­ing the NMF­S’s pro­pos­al. The com­ments cit­ed a Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA) study that showed that the sur­veys’ air­gun blast­ing can cause fish pop­u­la­tions to dra­mat­i­cal­ly decline dur­ing test­ing and that Atlantic off­shore drilling could result in severe and irrepara­ble harm to coast­line and marine life.

  • Decem­ber 2018

    In Decem­ber 2018, NMFS pub­lished its deci­sion to final­ize its June 2017 pro­pos­al to autho­rize seis­mic sur­veys in the Atlantic by issu­ing Inci­den­tal Harass­ment Autho­riza­tions (IHA) to five oil and gas com­pa­nies seek­ing to con­duct seis­mic test­ing off the Mid-Atlantic coast. NMFS deter­mined that seis­mic test­ing with air­guns could occur under the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act because inci­den­tal takes of marine mam­mals that would occur as a result of the test­ing would only have a neg­li­gi­ble impact” on marine species.

South Car­oli­na Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court Litigation


  • Decem­ber 2018

    In Decem­ber 2018, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh led a coali­tion of nine attor­neys gen­er­al in mov­ing to inter­vene in sup­port of a law­suit brought by envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions chal­leng­ing the issuance of the IHAs. The fil­ing not­ed that the issuance of the IHAs was arbi­trary and capri­cious, in vio­la­tion of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA), inso­far as the neg­li­gi­ble impact” deter­mi­na­tion ignored the cumu­la­tive impacts – the take of more than 300,000 marine mam­mals – of all of the appli­cants’ seis­mic test­ing activ­i­ties. Instead, NMFS only con­sid­ered the impact of each indi­vid­ual appli­cants’ seis­mic testing.

  • Jan­u­ary 2019

    In Jan­u­ary 2019, South Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Alan Wil­son also filed a motion to inter­vene in the law­suit in sup­port of chal­leng­ing the issuance of the IHAs.

  • Feb­ru­ary 2019

    In Feb­ru­ary 2019, the fed­er­al dis­trict court judge in South Car­oli­na grant­ed the motion to inter­vene from the coali­tion of nine states and the sep­a­rate motion to inter­vene from South Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Wil­son. The court’s order also lift­ed the pro­hi­bi­tion on BOEM and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies from issu­ing per­mits to begin seis­mic sur­veys that was in effect dur­ing the par­tial lapse in gov­ern­ment fund­ing dur­ing win­ter 2019.

  • March 2019

    In March 2019, South Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Wil­son filed a motion for pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion in the South Car­oli­na fed­er­al dis­trict court lit­i­ga­tion. The motion request­ed that the court stay the effec­tive­ness of the IHAs and that any seis­mic test­ing be enjoined until the court reach­es a deci­sion on the mer­its of whether the IHAs were law­ful­ly issued. Lat­er in March 2019, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Frosh led the nine state coali­tion in fil­ing a sep­a­rate, but sim­i­lar motion for pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion with the South Car­oli­na dis­trict court. The nine states not­ed that grant­i­ng the motion would serve the pub­lic inter­est as a near­ly unbro­ken chain of 10 states from South Car­oli­na to Maine are opposed to IHA-autho­rized seis­mic test­ing that will take more than 300,000 marine mam­mals and harm the states’ robust coastal tourism and recre­ation indus­tries. In a sub­se­quent fil­ing, the states assert­ed that a recent fed­er­al dis­trict court deci­sion in Alas­ka on leas­ing of areas in the Out­er Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf that led DOI to eval­u­ate whether the deci­sion impact­ed the Atlantic off­shore drilling plans indi­cat­ed that there is no urgency to con­duct seis­mic test­ing now and issu­ing a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion would be appropriate. 

  • August 2019

    In August 2019, the South Car­oli­na fed­er­al dis­trict court denied the motions for pre­lim­i­nary injunction.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, the court dis­missed the law­suit, not­ing that the com­pa­nies will not have moved for­ward with seis­mic test­ing before the IHAs expire on Novem­ber 30, 2020, ren­der­ing the case moot. The court point­ed out that the areas under the 10-year mora­to­ri­um on oil and gas leas­ing announced in Sep­tem­ber 2020 large­ly over­lap with the areas des­ig­nat­ed for seis­mic test­ing and that there is no legal basis for renew­ing the IHAs. Fol­low­ing the dis­missal of the law­suit, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Frosh issued a state­ment claim­ing vic­to­ry as the Trump administration’s plans to open the Atlantic coast to seis­mic sur­vey­ing – before pro­ceed­ing to off­shore drilling – is dead in the water.”

North Car­oli­na Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court Litigation

Under the Coastal Zone Man­age­ment Act (CZMA) states can object to fed­er­al agen­cies issu­ing licens­es or per­mits for a pro­posed project as incon­sis­tent with the enforce­able poli­cies of a state’s fed­er­al­ly approved coastal man­age­ment pro­gram. How­ev­er, on appeal, NOAA, the fed­er­al agency tasked with the respon­si­bil­i­ty of admin­is­ter­ing the CZMA, can find that the pro­posed activ­i­ty is either con­sis­tent with the objec­tives of the CZMA or nec­es­sary in the inter­est of nation­al security. 


  • June 2019

    In June 2019, the North Car­oli­na Divi­sion of Coastal Man­age­ment (NCD­CM) reject­ed the con­sis­ten­cy cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of West­ernGe­co to con­duct seis­mic sur­vey­ing off North Carolina’s coast as incon­sis­tent with the state’s rel­e­vant enforce­able coastal man­age­ment poli­cies under the CZMA. West­ernGe­co appealed NCDCM’s June 2019 deci­sion to NOAA.

  • June 2020

    In June 2020, NOAA issued its deci­sion, over­rid­ing NCDCM’s objec­tion to the pro­posed seis­mic sur­vey in find­ing that the seis­mic sur­vey­ing would fur­ther the nation­al inter­est, clear­ing the way for BOEM to issue per­mits for West­ernGe­co to con­duct seis­mic surveys.

  • August 2020

    In August 2020, North Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Stein filed a law­suit in fed­er­al dis­trict court in North Car­oli­na chal­leng­ing the law­ful­ness of NOAA’s June 2020 deci­sion. The law­suit notes that NOAA’s deci­sion that the pro­posed activ­i­ty would fur­ther the nation­al inter­est by devel­op­ing the resources of the nation’s coastal zone was unsup­port­ed by the record before NOAA. NOAA had also claimed that the activ­i­ty would fur­ther the nation­al inter­est in ener­gy self-suf­fi­cien­cy but failed to account for doc­u­ments in the record that demon­strat­ed that the fed­er­al government’s own pro­jec­tions show that the coun­try is already ener­gy self-suf­fi­cient and is antic­i­pat­ed to remain so for decades with­out the sur­vey activ­i­ty. Con­se­quent­ly, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Stein claims that NOAA’s deci­sion vio­lates the CZMA and is arbi­trary and capri­cious in vio­la­tion of the APA and requests that the June 2020 deci­sion be vacated.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, West­ernGe­co with­drew its appli­ca­tion to con­duct seis­mic sur­vey­ing off North Carolina’s coast. Fol­low­ing the with­draw­al of the appli­ca­tion, North Car­oli­na Attor­ney Gen­er­al Stein announced that the state would con­tin­ue the lit­i­ga­tion chal­leng­ing the fed­er­al government’s efforts to over­ride the state’s abil­i­ty to man­age and pro­tect its coastal resources.

  • Novem­ber 2020

    In Novem­ber 2020, NOAA filed a motion to dis­miss North Carolina’s law­suit, assert­ing that North Car­oli­na lacked stand­ing to bring the suit and with West­ernGe­co with­draw­ing its appli­ca­tion, the state’s com­plaint is now moot. In Jan­u­ary 2021, North Car­oli­na filed an oppo­si­tion to NOAA’s motion to dis­miss and on the same day filed a motion to vacate NOAA’s June 2020 decision.

Flori­da Exemption


  • April 2018

    New Jer­sey Attor­ney Gen­er­al Gur­bir Gre­w­al, in April 2018, filed a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) request with the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or (DOI) for all cor­re­spon­dence and inter­nal doc­u­ments relat­ed to Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke’s deci­sion to remove Flori­da from the draft off­shore drilling pro­gram. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Gre­w­al is attempt­ing to deter­mine why Flori­da was grant­ed an exemp­tion, but oth­er states, such as New Jer­sey, have not been grant­ed an exemption.

  • Octo­ber 2018

    Six months after the FOIA request, DOI had not offered any infor­ma­tion to explain the Flori­da drilling exemp­tion, pro­duced no doc­u­ments request­ed by Attor­ney Gen­er­al Gre­w­al, and pro­vid­ed no time­line for ful­fill­ing the FOIA request. Con­se­quent­ly, in Octo­ber 2018, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Gre­w­al filed a suit in the Unit­ed States Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia against DOI for fail­ing to answer his FOIA request.