Obama Administration Moves Forward on Opening the Atlantic Ocean to Offshore Drilling | Oceana
Oil rig in the Gulf

Oil rigs near Horn Island, Mississippi, United States. Today, January 27, the Obama Administration released a draft five-year oil and gas leasing plan, which would open the Atlantic to offshore oil exploration for the first time.

Photo Credit: (Photo: EUO OCEANA / Carlos Suárez)

Yesterday the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released a draft five-year oil and gas leasing plan for the United States’ Outer Continental Shelf from 2017 to 2022. The proposal would open the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas development for the first time, as well as cover leasing for parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. Oceana is opposed to offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic, and believes the proposal ignores risks to coastal economies, fisheries and livelihoods that currently rely on healthy ocean resources.

“Under this draft plan, the Obama Administration could open the Atlantic to oil and gas development for the first time ever,” says Oceana climate and energy campaign director Claire Douglass. “This move threatens coastal economies, local fisheries and the livelihoods of thousands of Americans all along the East Coast.”

The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) includes 14 lease sale areas: Ten sales in the Gulf of Mexico, three in the Arctic, and one sale in Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas. In the Atlantic, the planning area includes waters off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The move comes after President Obama announced on Sunday that he was designating part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness — the highest protection that would permanently close the area to offshore oil and gas operations.

Last June, the Obama Administration announced its decision to consider proposals for seismic airgun blasting along the U.S. East Coast to search for oil and gas deposits — a move that signaled the Administration would move forward with oil and gas development. Since then, opposition has mounted along the East Coast from politicians, scientists and citizens. Currently, 29 cities and towns along the East Coast have passed resolutions opposing or expressing concern with seismic airgun use. In addition, over 200 local elected officials, 163 conservation and animal welfare organizations and more than 60 Members of Congress voiced their opposition to this dangerous practice.

Seismic airguns generate one of the loudest manmade noises in the ocean, and would occur every 10 seconds for days to weeks at a time. Government estimates say these blasts could injure as many as 138,200 marine mammals — including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale — and disrupt the necessary activities like breeding and feeding of millions more. In addition, these blasts can kill fish eggs and larvae, and deter fish from important habitats.

“Seismic airgun blasting is the first step to offshore oil drilling,” says Douglass. “As seen in the 2010 BP oil disaster, oil spills do not respect state lines. And, since the 2010 oil spill, offshore drilling operations have not become any safer. The East Coast cannot afford the risk.”

Earlier this month, Oceana released a report demonstrating the benefits of offshore wind activity in the Atlantic compared with oil and gas development. The report found that offshore wind would create 91,000 more jobs than those offered by the oil and gas industries — which would double job creation potential in the Atlantic — and that wind energy would also double the amount of energy provided by the oil and gas development from economically recoverable reserves. The report also outlines that North Carolina — located in the midst of the proposed lease sale in the Atlantic and in the blast zone — carries the most wind energy and job creation potential out of any state in the proposed blast zone. 

Currently, a healthy Atlantic Ocean supports 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), mainly through coastal industries like fishing, tourism and recreation, according to the report. If an oil spill were to occur along the East Coast, it would devastate these robust economies and harm the livelihoods of thousands of people along the coast.

“As our report shows, the short-term gains from offshore oil and gas development aren’t worth the long term risks to fisheries, economies and livelihoods,” says Douglass. “It’s time we start thinking about the future and move towards cleaner energy solutions, rather than continuing to put our coastlines at risk.”

Oceana has actively campaigned to protect the Arctic and Atlantic for years, and will continue fighting for these healthy fisheries and robust local economies — but we need your help. For the first time, a BP Deepwater Horizon-like oil spill could reap its horrible devastation upon the East Coast, and we cannot let that happen. Click here to write to President Obama and tell him to keep offshore drilling out of the Atlantic and Arctic.