While the Deepwater Horizon rig was exploding, burning, sinking, and spewing, the federal government’s Minerals Management Service was, coincidentally, holding a series of meetings on the impact of oil exploration along the southeast Atlantic coast. They got much more than they bargained for.
In my ongoing mission to identify and plug in local activists for Oceana’s “Stop the Drill” campaign, I attended the meetings in Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington, meeting fabulous people who were already geared up for a big fight on drilling even before the news of the Deepwater Disaster had spread.
The first meeting I attended was held on April 21, just one day after the explosion. Attendance was fairly low, at around 30 people, but I immediately noticed a trend that would grow ever more pronounced as the meetings went by: attendees who were not paid to attend were overwhelmingly there to voice their opposition to drilling off the East Coast.
At each event, a few oil industry representatives would saunter up to the microphone and read a memo from their bosses urging the MMS to expedite the process and expand the scope of the exploration to include the North Atlantic coast. They touted their “safe” technology and their “exemplary” environmental record. These speakers were invariably followed by a stream of concerned local citizens, who testified fervently about the devastating impacts of oil exploration on marine wildlife and the potentially disastrous consequences of a bad spill in the region.
As the days and meetings went by, the concerns of those who spoke up were being illustrated to horrifying effect in the Gulf of Mexico and attendance at the meetings was swelling. The consequences of a possible spill on local fisheries and tourism along the east coast may have sounded alarmist to some ears at the first couple of meetings, but within a week they sounded a lot like our tragic reality in the Gulf.
At the final meetings in Wilmington on April 29, more than 70 people attended and the list of speakers was in the dozens.
We are at a turning point in the fight against offshore drilling. To join my team of activists building for a new moratorium on offshore drilling, email me right now at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell your Senators that you won't stand for expanded offshore drilling.
Matt Dundas is the Campaign Manager of Oceana's Climate and Energy Campaign.
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