Trump administration plan for Atlantic offshore drilling puts Southeast communities at risk

The Trump administration announced its draft five-year offshore drilling plan, proposing to open the Mid- and South Atlantic to risky drilling off our coast.

“Today’s announcement by the Trump administration willfully ignores coastal governors, communities, businesses, and elected leaders up and down the coast who’ve made it clear they don’t want drilling off their shores,” said SELC Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Offshore drilling threatens local communities, economies, and everything that makes the South a special place. In 2016, Southern communities along the Atlantic coast successfully fought off an attempt to bring offshore drilling to their coasts, and we will do the same again.”

The Trump administration’s proposed five-year plan would allow annual lease sales off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, in addition to opening other areas in the U.S. previously off limits to drilling, like the west coast of Florida. The draft plan takes out the 50-mile buffer off the coast included in the previous five-year plan. Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a proposal last week to roll back safety rules put in place in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which would bring drilling closer to shore and make it more dangerous for the communities who depend on the coast and its fisheries.

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More than 140 communities—including Wilmington, Virginia Beach, Charleston, and Savannah—and thousands of businesses, trade groups, and tourism associations have passed resolutions opposing Atlantic drilling and seismic testing. This year Virginia Beach passed a resolution against offshore drilling and seismic testing after previously supporting offshore drilling.

The Trump administration’s proposal defies formal requests from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe that their states be omitted from the five-year plan. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam have also voiced opposition to seismic testing and offshore drilling.

At the same time, the Trump administration has taken steps to clear the way for offshore drilling by ordering the streamlining of seismic permitting. In June, the Trump administration issued draft authorizations to harm marine mammals, a final step in approving oil and gas exploration through dynamite-like blasts every 10 seconds for weeks on end. Even before drilling is underway, seismic blasting would cause significant harm to the commercial and recreational fishing industries as well as dolphins, sea turtles, and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a population that suffered catastrophic losses this year.

In March of 2016, coastal opposition expressing concerns about impacts to local economies and the environment convinced the Obama administration to scrap a controversial plan to open the Atlantic coast to industrial oil and gas development for the first time, a move that would dramatically change coastal communities and jeopardize coastal economies.

The Southeast coast is built around a thriving tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the world to the pristine beaches, picturesque coastal communities, and beautiful waters that could be devastated with a single major oil spill. Even without a catastrophic accident, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, and traffic—would irreparably change coastal communities and the thriving tourism economy.

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