Mongabay Series: Oceans

Obama administration will not allow oil drilling off Atlantic coast

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In what is believed to be a major policy reversal, Obama administration says that it will no longer allow oil exploration off the shores of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, following concerns from the coastal communities, environmental groups and the Pentagon.

Obama administration will not allow oil drilling off Atlantic coast
  • Early last year, the Obama administration announced that it would open up - for the first time - a vast lease area of the southern Atlantic Ocean, 50 miles off the coasts of four U.S. states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia), for offshore drilling between 2017 and 2022.
  • However, following uproar from coastal communities and environmental groups, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it was reversing its proposal, and will not allow oil exploration off the Atlantic coast.
  • Other aspects of the draft proposal, however, such as plans to offer leases in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, still remain on the table.

America’s Atlantic coast will remain off limits for oil and gas drilling for now.

Following uproar from coastal communities and environmental groups, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it was reversing its initial plan of allowing oil exploration off the shores of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia between 2017 and 2022.

The Pentagon, too, had expressed concerns that oil exploration activities off the Atlantic Coast could interfere with their military drills and missile tests.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Sally Jewell of the Department of Interior said in a statement to reporters. “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 any lease sales in the coming five years.”

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it was reversing its proposal that would have allowed oil exploration off the shores of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia between 2017 and 2022. Photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0BR
The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it was reversing its proposal that would have allowed oil exploration off the shores of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia between 2017 and 2022. Photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0BR

In 2014, the Interior Department estimated that about 4.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies beneath the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf. Then early last year, the Obama administration announced that it would open up — for the first time – a vast area of the Atlantic Ocean, starting 50 miles off the coasts of four U.S. states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia), for offshore drilling.

However, the draft proposal received more than 1 million comments, the Interior Department said, mostly opposed to the plan.

The proposal’s reversal has been criticized by advocates of the oil industry. Some groups, like the Independent Petroleum Association of America, say that this move “closes the door to more American jobs and opportunities for the American economy.”

Conservation groups are, however, seeing this as a victory.

“President Obama has taken a giant step for our oceans, for coastal economies and for mitigating climate change,” Jacqueline Savitz, U.S. vice president of Oceana, an advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation, said in a statement. “This is a courageous decision that begins the shift to a new energy paradigm, where clean energy replaces fossil fuels, and where we can avoid the worst impacts of decades of our carbon dioxide emissions.”

Other aspects of the draft proposal, such as plans to offer leases in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, still remain on the table. This decision has some groups worried.

“President Obama has spared the people of the Atlantic coast from another oil catastrophe, but in allowing new drilling in the Gulf and Arctic, he’s keeping all of us on course for climate catastrophe,” advocacy group CREDO Climate Campaigns Director Elijah Zarlin said in a statement. “Any new offshore drilling is incompatible with a stable future and it is incompatible with the commitments that President Obama has made.”

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