Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 31, 2018

Contact: Abel Valdivia, (510) 844-7103,

Analysis: Trump Offshore Plan Could Cause More Than 5,000 Oil Spills

More Than 34 Million Gallons Could Be Dumped Along America's Coasts

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration’s proposal to dramatically ramp up offshore drilling could lead to 5,571 oil spills dumping 34.4 million gallons of oil into ocean waters off Alaska, the West Coast, East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, according to a new Center for Biological Diversity analysis.

The estimated number of oil spills over the leases’ lifespan could be more than 10 times what was expected in the worst-case scenario from the offshore leasing plan approved by the Obama administration, which only included leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

“Trump’s plan will be a long, oil-soaked nightmare for our coasts and wildlife,” said Abel Valdivia, the Center ocean scientist who conducted the analysis. “No president has ever pushed a drilling plan that would do so much damage along so many American coastlines. It’s really astonishing.”

The Center’s spill analysis of Trump’s draft 2019-2024 leasing plan is based on historical data and federal records. It assumes average spill rates for platforms and pipelines based on 1974-2015 data, but it doesn’t include catastrophic events like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which released more than 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The Trump administration’s efforts to roll back drilling safety regulations and expand drilling into treacherous Arctic waters could also drive those estimates even higher.

According to the Center’s analysis:

  • About 53 percent of the spills would likely occur in the Gulf of Mexico (mostly in the Central and Western Gulf);
  • About 28 percent would happen in northern Alaska (mostly in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas);
  • About 12 percent of spills would be along the West Coast (mostly in Southern California);
  • About 7 percent would be off the East Coast, mostly in the north and mid- Atlantic;
  • Catastrophic events like the Deepwater Horizon spill could dramatically increase the total oil spilled, given the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of safety rules.

“Oil spills do long-lasting damage to marine ecosystems and wildlife, from the smallest plankton to sea turtles and dolphins,” Valdivia said. “Marine organisms are already under significant stress from overfishing, pollution and climate change, and toxic oil spills are the last thing they need.”

An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up, threatening endangered polar bears, walruses and whales. The Chukchi Sea is very remote, with no infrastructure, and the nearest oil-spill response Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away. President Obama extended protections to the Arctic Ocean to prevent such a disaster. 

On the West Coast alone, carrying out Trump’s plan is expected to cause 657 spills, dumping more than 4 million gallons of oil into coastal waters of the Pacific. The plan will be the subject of large protests in six California coastal cities on Feb. 3 and official public hearings on Feb. 5 in Tacoma, Wash.; Feb. 6 in Salem, Ore.; and Feb. 8 in Sacramento, Calif., each preceded by protests. Details are at  

The Trump administration has yet to release any of its own estimates on how many oil spills could result from its five-year plan. The Center’s analysis is conservative. It was broken into large spills (over 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons), with assumed volumes based on historic median oil-spill size, and the average volumes and frequency for spills of under 1,000 barrels. Spill estimates were based on undiscovered, economically recoverable oil in the planning areas and could rise or fall depending on the anticipated productivity of offshore wells and factors such as the price of oil.

Under Obama’s 2017-2022 leasing plan, the federal government estimated a maximum of 546 spills containing about 4 million gallons of oil. Trump’s new proposal will replace that plan and significantly increase the threat of oil spills. Both plans offered leases that can last for decades, with oil production usually peaking within 20 years of the lease sale.

The Center’s oil spill calculations and estimates for each planning area are available here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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