Obama Administration Takes Offshore Drilling Plans Off the Table in the Atlantic | Oceana
Home / Blog / Obama Administration Takes Offshore Drilling Plans Off the Table in the Atlantic

March 25, 2016

Obama Administration Takes Offshore Drilling Plans Off the Table in the Atlantic

The 2016 Coastal Voices Summit brought together coastal leaders and celebrities to urge President Obama to abandon his plan to open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.
Oceana / Franz Mahr


The Obama administration announced this week its plans to exclude offshore drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic for at least the next seven years. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed five-year plan puts the entire East Coast off-limits to oil development until 2022. This reversal comes in the wake of years of widespread opposition from coastal communities and environmental activists.

As of this month, over 110 East Coast municipalities have formally opposed offshore drilling or seismic airgun blasting — a process to look for oil and gas deposits deep beneath the seafloor that can harm marine life. Opposition also included more than 100 members of Congress, roughly 1,100 businesses and a diverse coalition of advocacy groups led by Oceana.

Over the years, local opposition has been instrumental in giving President Obama and the Administration strong incentive to remove drilling from the five-year plan. At one time, offshore drilling was a foregone conclusion, said Claire Douglass, Oceana’s campaign director for climate and energy. That activity would have turned small coastal towns into oil towns, she added.

“The local opposition was widespread and unified in saying: we don’t need drilling now, and we don’t need drilling ever,” Douglas said, noting that this development will help cement Obama’s climate legacy.   

In states along the Atlantic coast, fishing, tourism, recreation and other coastal activities support 1.4 million jobs and bring in about $95 billion each year. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico cast a long shadow on debates over opening the Atlantic up to drilling. Concerns have mounted that a repeat of the spill — which killed 11 people and could end up costing BP over $20 billion in fines and penalties — could devastate coastal economies.

The Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries were hit hard by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In Louisiana, tourist spending dropped by $247 million in 2010 alone. Even in Florida towns with beaches that remained oil-free, visitors’ perception of pollution lead to millions in lost revenue and taxes. Many locals in Louisiana blame BP for plummeting oyster productivity and a continuing rash of dolphin illnesses and deaths.

Obama’s decision also safeguards scores of commercially and recreationally valuable fish and vital habitats for threatened species. These include endangered loggerhead turtle nesting beaches and the only known calving ground for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale off the coast of Florida and Georgia.

Ingrid Biedron, a marine scientist at Oceana, is hopeful that the drilling moratorium will be followed by a ban on seismic airgun blasting. Although related, the two activities can be legislated separately. “We know that seismic airgun blasting can potentially displace whales, keep them from finding mates and separate calves from their mothers,” she said. “It’s simply bad for marine life.”