Groups want Obama to ban Atlantic drilling for good
Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News reporter
Published: Friday, November 4, 2016
Environmental activists and communities up and down the Atlantic seaboard are mounting a full-court press to get the Obama administration to permanently ban all oil and gas activity off the East Coast, including seismic surveys.
Industry is pushing back, highlighting its own letters, signatures and studies showing support for future economic opportunities in oil and natural gas. Some industry trade groups also fear that this latest campaign against offshore drilling is a precursor to getting a new presidential administration to put strict limitations on oil and gas activity in the Gulf of Mexico, if not an outright ban on new drilling in one of the world's most active offshore energy regions.
Supporters of Atlantic drilling argue that it would bring manufacturing and higher-paying jobs to communities now heavily dependent on the lower-paying tourism sector, broadening the economic base.
We don't want any of it, said coastal town mayors in a press call yesterday.
"We have had hanging over our head for too long this question of unnecessary seismic testing and drilling off of our coast," said Billy Keyserling, mayor of Beaufort, S.C.
"We've been opposed to this from the very beginning," concurred Bill Hamilton, president of the St. Augustine, Fla., South Anastasia Communities Association.
Drilling for hydrocarbons has yet to happen in the Atlantic Basin, but seismic surveying has occurred as companies seek to better understand the resource potential there. To date, offshore energy production is present only in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of California, where a moratorium on new drilling has been in place for decades following a spill near Santa Barbara.
An effective moratorium on East Coast drilling has been in place for five years. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had earlier planned on holding a lease sale for offshore blocks off the coasts of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, but the oil price crash and strong opposition from local communities compelled BOEM to cancel the auction.
Organizations and some community members now say even seismic testing is too much for them to bear. They believe President Obama can use his executive authority to classify the Atlantic Basin as permanently off-limits to oil and gas exploration of any kind.
"Such a step would be beyond the current five-year moratorium," said Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana. She spoke on behalf of a coalition of four major environmental organizations, including Oceana, Environment America, the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Douglass said their campaign has garnered broad support from "individuals, groups and businesses from Maine to Florida."
The groups touted letters to Obama in support of their initiative signed by 74 House of Representatives members and 14 U.S. senators. They also say they've won backing from 120 Eastern towns and cities and over 1,000 regional businesses. A possible declaration from Jacksonville, Fla., now pending, could make it the largest city to press for the permanent Atlantic offshore drilling ban.
"We're urging President Obama to do the right thing," said Laura Wood-Habr, president of the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association.
Industry asks for 'common-sense approaches'
Industry and trade associations have fired back with their own letter to the president urging him to ignore the activists' pleas. That has been signed by 107 members and affiliates of the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Consumer Energy Alliance. CEA has been particularly vocal on this issue, and has been pressing the oil industry to do more in Washington, D.C., to counteract the environmentalists' push, fearful that it could spill over into the Gulf of Mexico, where thousands of families rely on offshore energy activity for their livelihoods.
"We need to start adopting common-sense approaches that support rational, logical, fact-based dialogue and reject a 'just say no' energy strategy," CEA President David Holt said in a release. "It is time we take accountability through responsible energy development that protects not only the environment but hard-working people in our communities."
"Over 100 organizations noted that domestic offshore oil and natural gas development helps a diverse range of interests across the U.S. economy more affordably and reliably meet their energy needs, while supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and our environmental security," the proponents stated. "Offshore development also generates tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and government revenue, and safeguards U.S. national security."
Activists have in the past staged "keep it in the ground" rallies in New Orleans and Houston, prompting greater concern among the associations. Companies in the oil and gas sector have been preoccupied with the downturn and steep pullback in drilling activity, both on- and offshore.
CEA has been looking to mobilize industry's players in a more concerted effort to protect future Gulf of Mexico drilling. Environmental activists' throwing down of the gauntlet yesterday may prove a catalyst for stronger pushback from industry.
"The administration faces a critical decision as it finalizes its offshore leasing plan: Will manufacturers continue to enjoy an energy advantage, or will these resources be closed off to them?" asked NAM Vice President Ross Eisenberg.
The letter from the trades can be found here: http://consumerenergyalliance.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Offshore-Energy-Letter.pdf