In a victory for coastal advocates, the Obama administration yesterday decided not to open up portions of the Atlantic seaboard to offshore oil and gas drilling.
The announcement reverses a draft proposal to open up millions of acres in the mid-Atlantic and south Atlantic by auctioning off tracts for drilling, a plan environmentalists and state lawmakers here feared would threaten New Jersey’s billion dollar tourism economy.
No drilling would have occurred off the Jersey coast or the outer continental shelf, but opponents worried that a spill off Virginia where leases were to be offered for sale could adversely effect New Jersey’s coastal environment and economy, already hard hit and not fully recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s a great day for the Atlantic Ocean and the thousands of citizens who fought to protect the coast,’’ said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “The sea is spared from oil drilling and the horrific consequences that Big Oil brings — pollution, spills, and industrialization.’’
In releasing a five-year program for oil and gas leasing offshore, Sally Jewell, secretary of the Department of the Interior, said the proposal allowing sales to occur in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska shelved a proposed sale in the mid-Atlantic and south Atlantic.
After extensive input from the public opposing the sale, it was removed from the proposal by a variety of factors including significant potential conflicts with other ocean uses, current market conditions, and opposition from many coastal communities, the department said. Up to 104 million acres in the mid-Atlantic and south Atlantic were part of the original proposal.
“When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years,’’ Jewell said.
Some executives in the energy industry were not surprised by the reversal of the administration, which had originally touted the plan as part of its overall strategy to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.
“The president didn’t reverse course on his offshore plan because he never intended to allow energy production off the Atlantic coast,’’ said Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, an industry trade group.
Still, environmentalists, who often ally themselves with the administration, welcomed the announcement and had vigorously opposed the leasing plan in the Atlantic.
“This is a great day for the Jersey Shore because the entire Atlantic coast and our beaches dodged an oily bullet,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This victory couldn’t have happened without a multistate citizen effort to derail this fossil fuel plan.’’
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “This decision will allow us to focus on building windmills off our coasts and moving away from dirty fossil fuels and oil rigs,’’ he said.
The conservationists also lauded members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Bob Menendez, Sen. Cory Booker, and Rep. Frank Pallone for spearheading opposition to the plan.
“Today’s announcement is a victory for our economy, our environment, and the overall well-being of our Shore communities,’’ Menendez said.
NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.