The Obama administration has decided against opening U.S. Atlantic waters off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to oil and gas exploration.
The Interior Department made what the New York Times described as a surprise move in response to an “outpouring of opposition from coastal communities.” While state governors and legislators had supported the drilling plan, it drew a sharply critical response from more than 100 coastal cities, about 1,000 businesses, and 80 state representatives.
“The Pentagon also recently came out strongly against Atlantic drilling, saying it could interfere with the Navy’s work along the coast,” EcoWatch reports.
When the government first decided to open a large swath of the Atlantic coast to oil and gas leases, environmental groups called it a case of “oil spill amnesia” following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “They argue that the technology and regulations have not advanced significantly in the five years since the Deepwater Horizon spill, the fallout from which continues in economic recovery and prolonged legal battles over fines and compensation,” Climate Progress reported at the time.
Just over a year later, “we heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic Coast,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “When you factor in conflicts with national defence, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”
“This moment has come because Atlantic coast communities, businesses, and citizens have all spoken up to protect their beaches and treasured marine life, and President Obama listened,” responded Rachel Richardson, director of the Environment America drilling program.
Interior’s updated 2017-2022 leasing plan disappointed some environmentalists by opening 13 potential lease areas in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. But Ecowatch cast the announcement as putting most Arctic drilling sites off-limits, noting that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “declared last week they would adhere to ‘science-based standards’ for new oil and gas ventures in the Arctic.”
The draft leasing plan is open for public comment for 90 days, and a final version is likely before the end of President Obama’s term.