Just days after the White House announced historic plans to protect 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil exploration, President Obama has proposed plans to open a region of the Atlantic to offshore drilling. While the Obama administration claims any new drilling would happen a ‘safe distance’ from the coastline, politicians and activists alike are speaking out against hazardous plans that seem to be moving domestic energy development in the wrong direction.
The Atlantic drilling area is one of 14 that are included in the draft of the 2017-2022 lease sale. Also included are 10 areas in the Gulf of Mexico and three in the Arctic. The single Atlantic oil lease area would include areas off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Speaking to the press, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cautiously noted that the Atlantic drilling area is only a consideration, and one that may be “narrowed or taken out entirely in the future.” In the mean time, the proposal restricts drilling activity to a minimum distance of 50 miles from the coast, in an effort to protect communities against damage in the event of a spill. This is perhaps of little assurance, as Deepwater Horizon was located 41 miles from the coast of Louisiana when the 2010 disaster occurred.
Furthermore, the economic value of drilling in the Atlantic is uncertain. Estimates suggest that there are 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 31.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Atlantic seabed, which, as many have noted, is hardly the making of a boom.
Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J) was among the first to issue a statement, noting that opening up the Atlantic to drilling “poses a serious threat to coastal communities throughout the region, and is the wrong approach to energy development in this country.” While the Sierra Club underscored that “(o)pening these areas to dirty fuel development is incompatible with a healthy future for America’s coastlines, coastal communities, or our climate.” Indeed, valuable regions such as the Chesapeake Bay could be affected if there were to be an incident at a drilling site in the Atlantic.
Additionally concerns have been raised about the potential economic impacts. Oceana, a Washington-based environmental group cautioned that “(c)ommercial fishing, tourism and recreation economies would suffer from routine oil leaks as well as the looming risk of a Deepwater Horizon-like oil disaster stretching along the East Coast.”
The White House maintains that no lease will be given in the Atlantic until 2021, and that before then there will be a public comment period as well as additional research into the available resources in the Atlantic.
Via The Guardian