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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

On deck for drilling; The Marianas Trench is on Trump’s energy exploration list

Marianas Trench resident

For scientists, the Marianas Trench’s otherworldly ecosystem is a fascinating virgin environment for research. For James Cameron, the Challenger Deep is a mystery to solve. For President Donald Trump, the deepest known point in the world's oceans may be a place to exploit.

Locked away under the deep beds of the Marianas Trench are methane hydrates, a potential energy source. According to scientists, it’s one of the few areas where organisms can convert light energy and carbon molecules into chemical energy.

Fishing, drilling and mining are prohibited in the Marianas Trench National Marine Monument but because of its potential as a source of energy, its sanctuary designation is at risk for recall. The Marianas Trench is among the 27 national monuments under federal review. This marine sanctuary is also among the five being considered for possible exploration under Trump’s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

As part of Trump’s plan to unlock the nation’s energy reserves in a bid to cut reliance on foreign oil, the strategy will make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing.

Besides the Marianas Trench, other national monuments being eyed for drilling are Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (Atlantic Ocean), Pacific Remote Islands (Pacific Ocean), Papahanaumokuakea (Hawaii), and Rose Atoll (American Samoa).

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, covering 95,216 square miles of ocean and more than six miles deep, was established President Bush in January 2009. This monument bans oil and gas drilling and other industrial activity across 60 million acres near Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Deeper than the height of Mount Everest, the Marianas Trench fascinates scientists who have discovered some puzzling marine life. Its volcanic unit has species living in boiling and acidic water. This area contains pools of liquid sulfur, a rare phenomenon which scientists say has been located on one of Jupiter’s moons.

The methane hydrates release natural gas when warmed and depressurized. Environmental activists, however, warn that drilling in these waters would damage pristine coral reefs and the marine life within them.

But Trump is not one to romanticize the beauty of the underwater world. He ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a review of all presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since Jan. 1, 1996, to determine whether each designation or expansion reflects the Act's “requirements and original objectives” and “appropriately balance the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.”


Zinke said the Interior Department oversees some 1.7 billion acres on the outer continental shelf, which contains an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans are in favor either of keeping the national monuments intact or expanding them in the future, according to the Center for Western Priorities, which analyzed a random sample of comments posted on the Federal Register website. The Department of Interior received more than 1.4 million responses when the comment period ended on July 10.

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