Press Release | June 30, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Highlights Need to Put Atlantic Coast, Eastern Gulf Off-Limits to Offshore Drilling, Groups Say

Obama Administration Should Nix Drilling in New Areas and Focus on Clean Energy

A coalition of 31 groups from New Jersey to Florida and Alabama* joined forces today to tell the Obama Administration to permanently withdraw the Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf from any drilling for offshore oil and gas. (*See below for a complete list. This has been updated as of 1:20 PM to add several new groups.)

Prior to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the groups had raised concerns about serious harm to the coastal communities, economy and environment in these areas from potential oil and gas drilling as proposed by the Obama Administration on March 31. The ongoing crisis in the Gulf, caused in part by the utter failure of federal oversight of offshore drilling that has now come to light, is a tragic example of the risks involved and the lives and livelihoods at stake with any expanded drilling.

Southern Environmental Law Center, a regional non-profit advocacy organization, submitted formal comments on behalf of the groups to the Department of Interior today detailing the multiple reasons why the agency must permanently withdraw the Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf from its proposed 5-year (2012-2017) offshore drilling plan. The deadline for public comments is today.

See the comments here (pdf).

“Opening these areas to oil and gas drilling would be reckless in the extreme. We are witnessing the dire consequences the oil spill is having in the fragile ecosystems of the central Gulf. A spill would be just as devastating in the Mid- or South Atlantic or the eastern Gulf. In fact, the government ranks the shorelines of these areas as more environmentally sensitive to oil spills than the central Gulf,” said SELC attorney Marirose Pratt.

The Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf rank just above the central Gulf as the Outer Continental Shelf regions whose coastal habitats are most environmentally sensitive to oil spills due to their extensive coastal lowlands made up of wetlands, marshes, swamps and other sensitive shoreline features, according to recent analyses by the Interior Department cited in the groups’ comment letter.

The coastal and marine resources of the Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf support the region’s substantial fishing and tourism economies. In 2008, there were $262.8 million worth of commercial fish landings in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, according to NOAA. Tourism provides 30,000 jobs on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In Virginia, the 18 cities and counties of the Chesapeake Bay and coast brought in $4.25 billion in tourism revenue in 2007.

Yet, the three Outer Continental Shelf regions hold just a little over seven months of oil and 15 months of natural gas at current rates of U.S. consumption, according to government estimates.

“The calculation is crystal clear – risking the long-term sustainability of the South’s fisheries and coastal economies is not worth the short-term gain in oil and gas. Far from it,” said SELC attorney Deborah Murray. “With families and businesses in the Gulf suffering and more wildlife dying every day, we can not afford to delay immediate action to shift to clean, sustainable energy.”

In their comments, the groups note that federal law requires Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcment) to consider alternatives as part of the environmental review of its proposed 5-year plan. So far, the only alternatives the agency has identified are simply changing the number or frequency of lease sales, limiting leasing areas, and including coastal buffers. The groups contend MMS must rigorously explore alternatives to oil and gas drilling in the first place, including meeting energy needs through efficiency programs and renewable sources.

Virginia was on track to be the first on the Atlantic with offshore oil and drilling until Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar suspended the leasing process on May 27; however, the lease sale remains in the proposed 5-year plan. Much of the 3 million acre lease area overlaps with areas used by the Navy for training operations based mostly out of the Norfolk Naval Base – the world’s largest and an economic mainstay of Hampton Roads. The Department of Defense has consistently opposed oil and gas drilling in Virginia due to concerns of conflicts with its operations; the agency reiterated those concerns earlier this year.

Organizations on the letter:

Alabama Rivers Alliance Altamaha Riverkeeper & Altamaha Coastkeeper (GA)
Center for a Sustainable Coast (GA)
Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper (AL)
Coastal Conservation League (SC)
Conservation Alabama
Conservation Council of North Carolina
Conservation Voters of South Carolina
Defenders of Wildlife
Environment Florida
Environment Georga
Environment New Jersey
Environment North Carolina
Environment Virginia
Georgia Conservancy
Glynn Environmental Coalition (GA)
Hurricane Creekkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek (AL)
Mobile Baykeeper
North Carolina Coastal Federation
North Carolina Conservation Network
North Carolina Native Plant Society, Southeast Coast Chapter
Ogeechee Riverkeeper (GA)
Pamlico-Tar River Foundation (NC)
PenderWatch & Conservancy (NC)
Savannah Riverkeeper
Sierra Club, North Carolina Chapter
Sierra Club, South Carolina Chapter
Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter
Southern Environmental Law Center
Virginia League of Conservation Voters

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