Press Release | January 27, 2015

Southern Environmental Law Center Calls for Protection of Southeast Coasts from Offshore Drilling

Flawed Plan Would Open Coasts to Offshore Drilling for the First Time, Jeopardizing Local Jobs, Tourism, and Marine Ecosystems

CHARLOTTESVILLE, V.A.— Today the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft five-year plan that would make the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts available to oil and gas leasing starting in 2017. This represents a significant shift in federal policy, as there have never been any producing oil or gas wells drilled off the ecologically rich coastlines of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Offshore drilling would threaten the economic livelihood of the coastal communities that rely on healthy waters and clean beaches to support local tourism and fishing industries. It would also damage barrier islands and marsh ecosystems, as well as sensitive wetlands that provide drinking water and hurricane protection to nearby communities.

Leasing has not happened in over 30 years in the Atlantic, and the single lease sale proposed off the coast of Virginia was cancelled in the wake of the BP disaster in 2010 – a catastrophic event that spilled over 130 million gallons of oil, costing billions of dollars to the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal economies and causing unprecedented environmental damage. The latest estimates show that the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts combined hold just 3% of the offshore oil and 6% of the offshore gas resources in the country, so drilling is expected to have no impact on already historically low gas prices for U.S. consumers.

In response to today’s announcement, Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center released this statement:

“Risky drilling off our Southern coasts jeopardizes the communities, jobs, and beloved beaches that are the very heart of our coastal states.

As we’ve seen with the Exxon Valdez and BP disasters, a single oil spill can devastate a coast for years, threatening everything about why we choose to live, work, and play on our Southern Atlantic coasts.

The best assurances and technology of the oil industry have not been good enough to prevent or quickly contain major oil spills. A single accident could ruin our coastal way of life – everything from the seafood we eat to the beaches we cherish to the jobs that support local communities.

Our Southern beaches are world famous destinations and our fisheries are among the most productive in the world. Our coastal economies are the backbone of hundreds of towns and cities along the Southern coast, providing thousands of jobs, multi-billion dollar tourism industries, multi-million dollar fishing industries, and critical local tax revenues.

We cannot let Washington prioritize the bottom line of multinational corporations over local people, homes, and economies.

Instead of pursuing this politically motivated, high-stakes gamble, we can generate good new local jobs and protect our coastal communities by expanding clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  

Everyone who cares about our coastal communities needs to call on Interior Secretary Jewell, as well as our elected representatives, to protect our coasts and remove the Southeast from the five-year leasing plan.”

The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will accept public comments for the next 60 days on the government’s proposed 2017-2022 leasing of the Atlantic Coast to oil companies for drilling. A final plan is expected to be released in 2016.

SELC has worked for nearly thirty years to protect our coastal resources, including challenging lease sales following the BP disaster. In August 2014, SELC submitted comments on behalf of 27 citizens groups from across the Southeast urging the federal government to not open up Southern coasts to drilling.




The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Sierra Weaver

Senior Attorney and Leader of the Coast and Wetlands Program

Phone: 919-967-1450
Email: [email protected]

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]

Emily Driscoll

Senior Communications Manager

Phone: 404-521-9900
Email: [email protected]