Communities Oppose Plan To Open The Southeast Coast To Offshore Drilling

When the federal government announced a proposal in 2015 to open the waters off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to oil and gas drilling for the first time, people who live and work along the Southeast coast came out strongly against drilling and for protecting our coastal communities and economies instead.

Communities, elected leaders, and impacted businesses and residents along the Southeast coast united in opposition to this major shift in federal policy. Altogether, more than 200 communities up and down the coast passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and the harmful seismic testing that precedes it.

In response to the incredible opposition from coastal communities, the federal government removed the Atlantic from its offshore leasing plan, protecting all that is special about the Southeast coast.

Despite this overwhelming opposition, in 2018 the Trump administration announced another ill-advised plan for oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. waters, including the Atlantic Ocean, which would be a direct threat to the Southeast coast and the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on our clean beaches.    

Coastal communities and businesses made it clear to the last president that they do not want offshore drilling, and they’ll do the same with this president.

Despite the fact that Southeastern mayors, governors, U.S. representatives, and senators have weighed in to ask that offshore drilling be kept from their shores, the Trump administration has proposed annual lease sales in the Atlantic beginning in 2020.  At the same time, the federal government is also expected to issue permits imminently for seismic testing to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor, stretching from Delaware to Florida. The government has already issued "Incidental Harrassment Authorizations" to five companies, permits needed before seismic blasting can begin. 

Adding to the threat, the new administration has proposed rolling back safety rules put in place in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. After an initial comment period, the administration is expected to release a new version of the plan in early 2019.

Big Oil Over Local Businesses And Jobs

The oil and gas industry has worked with intense pressure to try and open up the Southeast coast to offshore drilling with promises of new jobs and public revenues. But tourism and fishing—both commercial and recreational—are the economic backbone of hundreds of towns and cities along the coast. Along the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, workers in the travel and tourism industry in 2016 took home $3.2 billion in wages. That money comes in part from the $15 billion visitors to the coastal regions spent that year, according to the U.S. Travel Association. This far outweighs any potential jobs or economic gain that could ever be provided from offshore drilling.

Established, thriving coastal industries would be put at risk by drilling, both through the threat of a catastrophic spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and through the impacts of routine drilling operations. Even without a major spill, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, traffic, and routine spills and accidents—would irreparably change our coastal communities and economies.

The Southeast Coast Is Environmentally Valuable—And Fragile

The Southeast Coast is one of the most environmentally vulnerable and valuable regions of the country, making it one of the most catastrophic areas for a potential spill. Dozens of national wildlife refuges, marine protected areas, and national seashores and beaches are located along the coast. The coastal environment provides protection not just to wildlife, but to people living in these areas. Marshes and hammocks help protect against dangerous hurricanes, while coastal wetlands act as the front lines against flood protection and erosion control. Hundreds of species of unique wildlife that live and flourish on beaches and off the coast would be adversely affected by a spill.

Seismic Exploration Alone Will Harm The Marine Environment

Even before any drilling starts, oil and gas expansion into the Atlantic is likely to do serious harm to the environment—and it opens the door to drilling, which the coast overwhelmingly rejected. Seismic testing uses loud airguns to locate fossil fuels deep beneath the ocean floor, firing intense blasts repeatedly for days or weeks with multiple companies covering the same areas repeatedly. Seismic testing is a means to one end: offshore drilling, and both drilling and seismic testing are widely opposed by residents, businesses, and local governments up and down the East Coast.

Based on the government's own estimates, seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic could harm as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins or whales. Seismic testing could impact economically important fisheries, which contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to state economies and employ over 60,000 individuals, by closing off important fishing grounds to fishermen and impacting important fish habitat.

SELC has joined a host of conservation organizations and 16 South Carolina cities and towns in suing to stop seismic blasting. Attorneys general from 10 East Coast states have joined the lawsuit.