SELC Commends DOI Decision to Restore Ban of Offshore Drilling in Atlantic and Eastern Gulf
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the Atlantic coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico coast will remain off-limits to offshore oil and gas drilling at least through 2017. These areas had been protected from offshore drilling for years, but at the end of March, President Obama proposed opening them up for oil and gas development. Just weeks later, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf exploded and sank, resulting in the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history.
“This is very welcome news indeed. We have been opposed for years to drilling in the Atlantic, which holds meager oil reserves yet provides billions in fishing and tourism revenue to coastal communities. The BP disaster brings into sharp focus just how risky offshore drilling is and the ecological and economic tragedies that await,” said Deborah Murray, SELC senior attorney.
According to the most recent estimates by the federal government, oil reserves off Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and north Florida amount to just three months of supply at current U.S. consumption rates. Offshore drilling operations, not to mention a potential oil spill, would threaten the abundant fisheries in the region; in 2008, commercial fish landings in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were valued at $262.8 million. Coastal tourism in 2007 in Virginia alone brought in $4.25 billion.
Secretary Salazar’s announcement today sets the stage for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to develop the next five-year plan (2012 through 2017) specifying the federal government’s plans for offshore energy development. The current plan, 2007 to 2012, originally included a proposed lease sale for 3 million acres off Virginia’s coast-the only Atlantic state targeted for drilling. On May 27, the Obama Administration cancelled the Virginia sale so that it could consider potential conflicts with offshore military training as well as safety reviews under way in response to the BP oil spill. Today’s announcement confirmed that Virginia’s coast, which holds just six days worth of oil, will also be off-limits to drilling at least through 2017.
“The Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore beaches, the fisheries, the state parks and wildlife refuges-these are much too valuable to gamble away for a few weeks of oil,” Murray said. She added, though, that she is deeply concerned about the Administration’s plan to pursue underwater seismic studies in the Atlantic, which harm marine life.
“The continued ban announced by Secretary Salazar today fits hand-in-glove with the Administration’s many other efforts to shift the country away from dirty fossil fuels-including ramping up offshore wind development, improving gas mileage for trucks and cars, and providing creative incentives for overall energy efficiency.”