By Andy Sharpless and Ted Danson
Here’s some great news: the United States Government has announced it will remove the Atlantic Ocean from its five-year plan for oil and gas development. This is an important victory for the U.S. Oceans.
Our organization, Oceana, has campaigned against proposals to drill for oil in the Atlantic since 2009. We and our allies helped organize citizens from 110 East Coast municipalities and helped get more than 100 members of Congress, 700 state and local elected officials and 1,100 business interests to join the effort. This week, we learned that the Obama Administration listened and, as a result, will protect the Atlantic coast from the dangers of offshore drilling activity. In its newly proposed five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has removed the Atlantic Ocean for leasing from 2017 to 2022.
This announcement will help protect marine life. The U.S. Atlantic waters are home to fragile populations like the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered species on the planet with only about 500 individuals still alive. East Coast fisheries also provide cod and haddock, two of the most commonly-caught fish in an $11.8 billion Atlantic fishing industry. Now, these creatures and more will not face the additional risks to their survival associated with Atlantic offshore oil drilling.
This hard-won victory will mean significant protections not just for our oceans, but for the coastal communities that rely on them as well. Cities and towns on the East Coast are inextricably tied to healthy oceans, as fisheries, tourism and other ocean-dependent sectors provide nearly 1.4 million jobs and generate more than $95 billion in gross domestic product. In addition to its damaging environmental impact, an incident like 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster could have severely harmed local economies and livelihoods.
The Obama Administration’s action is also a victory for clean energy. A 2015 Oceana report showed that offshore wind could produce twice as many jobs and double the amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, while offshore drilling would only have continued our irresponsible use of carbon-intensive energy sources. Policy shifts like this one that prioritize cleaner, safer energy are necessary if we are to successfully address carbon pollution and limit its downstream effects of climate change and ocean acidification.
This victory is not yet complete. The new plan does not stop the process of using seismic airguns, which search for oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor and shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the water that can seriously harm marine life. With no drilling plans in sight, there is no reason why this practice should be permitted.
Unfortunately, the plan also includes sales in the remote and unforgiving Arctic Ocean. Oceana will continue to work to have those sales removed and to protect the Arctic Ocean, where an oil spill would be nearly impossible to respond to. There is no good reason to sell leases in the Arctic, where companies are not ready to operate safely, have not explored the leases they already own, and many have even walked away from leases they bought over the last decade. Offering new leases in the Arctic Ocean is bad fiscal and environmental policy, and future lease sales would be inconsistent with the commitments President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau made in their historic agreement just last week.
Fortunately, we know that the Obama Administration will listen. The coalition of elected officials, volunteers, and everyday citizens that Oceana assembled made their voices impossible to ignore — and this advocacy will continue. And now, thanks to their efforts, the Atlantic has been protected from offshore drilling.