Stopping offshore drilling

Protecting our Southern coasts

Our Southern beaches are world-famous destinations, and our fisheries are among the most productive in the world. Clear water and clean beaches provide billions of dollars in revenue to our coastal states. That’s why all East Coast governors, along with more than 220 coastal counties, towns and cities have opposed drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. One of our driving priorities in recent years has been to protect the Atlantic Ocean from all forms of fossil-fuel exploration and drilling.

Facing multiple challenges

The Southern Environmental Law Center has worked to mitigate the greatest risks and harms of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. We were among the first in the nation to file lawsuits responding to the environmental disaster of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. What our attorneys saw there solidified our position that we could never let oil drilling get a foothold in the Atlantic, as we continue to work to strengthen safety measures for existing oil drilling to ensure that a catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon never happens again. Tourism and fishing are the economic backbone of hundreds of communities along our coast. And our beautiful and biologically rich Southeast Coast features some of the most beloved places in the country, including the Chesapeake Bay, the Pamlico Sound, the ACE Basin and Mobile Bay. The risks to our coast and to our way of life were too great to open the Atlantic to oil drilling.

Even so, both the Obama and the Trump administrations raised that possibility.

We worked with partners, coastal residents and coastal businesses to elevate their voices and raise their objections. For many of our communities, oil-industry plans risked thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in community revenue. The coastal outcry caused the Obama administration to reverse its stance, and the Trump administration was never able to follow through with plans to open the Atlantic to oil companies.

Virginia’s coastal tourism brings in more than $4 billion into the state every year. The vitality of our businesses in coastal communities is dependent on the environmental well-being of our waters.

Laura Habr, co-owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro in Virginia Beach

Going to court

To stop the possibility of oil drilling, we went to court to stop the first step in the process: the sonic mapping of the ocean floor in the search for oil deposits. The loud airgun blasts used by the seismic industry are known to harm ocean life and fisheries, and could have posed a particular risk to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

We went to court to stop these seismic companies and our legal challenge ended when the seismic companies announced they would no longer seek approval to blast.

And with opposition to opening the Atlantic a hot topic on the 2020 campaign trail, President Trump granted ten years of protection to the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Despite these temporary protections, SELC is working with Congress and the Biden administration to ensure a permanent ban on offshore drilling.