It has been over 30 years since offshore drilling took place for oil and gas on the Atlantic coast of the United States. However, in January 2015, President Obama released a proposal to sell offshore oil and gas leases in federally owned waters. The proposal would allow drilling along the East Coast from northern Virginia to the Georgia-Florida border.
The proposal by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, included 14 potential lease sales in eight different areas, most of them in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska and those on the East coast. This proposal was a draft that could be changed after upcoming months of public hearings.
Environmentalists immediately sprang into action, concerned about another Deepwater Horizon spill happening, saying that neither technology nor regulations had improved in the five years since the spill which devastated wildlife and the local economies. They were also concerned that any new drilling would include using high-pressure underwater seismic airgun blasts that they felt would disrupt fisheries and wildlife migration. They were joined by residents along the coastline as well as businesses and business groups involved in coastal tourism and recreation.
This past March, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, announced the decision to bar drilling along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. In a conference call with reporters, she said Florida, Georgia, South Caroline, North Carolina and Virginia would remain off limits for drilling until 2022. She cited the concerns of coastal communities about risks to their fishing and tourist industries from oil and gas spills. Additionally, there were warnings from the Navy about interference with their systems.
“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Jewell said. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with lease sales in the coming five years.”
The action to bar drilling comes as oil and gasoline prices have plunged to near record lows.
In a statement Greenpeace said, “With the offshore Atlantic now closed to new exploration, it is hard to see where growth for big oil in North America is going to come from. Unimaginable even a few years ago, we are now seeing the beginning of the end of the oil age.”
Photo Courtesy of Oceana