Our leaders in Washington will be very busy over the next several months as they seek to implement President Donald Trump’s agenda. High on their list should be actions that will undo some of the damage done to the offshore energy industry during the prior administration.

Most prominently, the prior administration imposed a permanent ban on oil and natural gas leasing in vast areas of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The law that former President Obama cited in imposing the ban, the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act, states in part that the shelf is a “vital national resource reserve … which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development, subject to environmental safeguards.” We can all agree that we need to proceed safely and with due regard for the environment, but simply banning activity would seem to contradict this very clear language.

Legal or not, the move places the United States at a competitive disadvantage. The American Petroleum Institute has noted that 94 percent of federal offshore acreage is now off limits to energy production. The Institute’s recent State of American Energy report cites a 2014 study by Quest Offshore Resources which estimates that allowing more offshore oil and natural gas production could create more than 800,000 new jobs, grow the economy by up to $70 billion a year and raise more than $200 billion for governments at the local, state and federal levels between 2017 and 2035.

That same study reported that Louisiana would add 31,000 jobs and receive $2.3 billion in cumulative state revenue by 2035 if oil and natural gas development were allowed in the Eastern Gulf planning area.

The prior administration also recently denied permits to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic. In the meantime, other countries with access to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans are moving forward with offshore energy development. The longer we wait, the further we’ll fall behind.

And there’s no question the world is going to need the energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, global energy demand is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2040, and fossil fuels will meet about 80 percent of that demand. Someone is going to meet that need. Why should the United States miss out?

I call on our representatives in Washington to adopt policies that will increase rather than decrease access to federal offshore areas. Louisianans, along with millions of other Americans, deserve to benefit from our vital natural resources.

David Welch

CEO, Stone Energy Corporation