Oil rigs could soon pop up off the East Coast after a policy change announced this morning by President Obama.
President Obama announced plans this morning to allow drilling off the East Coast from Delaware to Florida. That move reverses a policy put in place more than 20 years ago that prohibits offshore drilling except in the Gulf of Mexico.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) says state leaders are evaluating the decision, “We’ve got some significant concerns not surprisingly.” Markell says he’s just starting to dig into the details of the plans for drilling. “We’re gonna focus on that and we do have some concerns certainly from the perspective of the environment.”
Environmental groups weren’t as even handed as Markell in their response. Tracy Carluccio with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network calls the decision disappointing, “We’re surprised, and certainly are very concerned about this.”
Carluccio says the region’s water quality is already facing challenges without the possibility of any impact from offshore drilling. “At this point in time, we really have to turn away from the old school approach of developing fossil fuels. We really need to go completely and thoroughly into energy efficiency, into conservation, and into developing renewables.”
The policy change has the potential to be a stabilizing force in the U.S. economy. Executive Director of the Delaware Petroleum Council Gary Patterson says, “It will mean trillions of dollars of revenue if they all get developed. But, more importantly, at a time like this, it’s significant jobs (coming) in the future.” Those future jobs are at least five years away, says Patterson, because it takes at least that long to find reserves and build the infrastructure to access it. He says Virginia is in the best position to take immediate advantage of the change, “Virginia has the facilities obviously in Norfolk/Newport News to gain access and to do offshore development. We’d have to look hard at whether those resources are available on the Delaware River.”
Delaware U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman says he disagrees with the policy change. In a statement released from his office, Kaufman said, ““While I share the President’s commitment to taking our dependence on foreign oil head-on, I do not believe opening Delaware’s coasts to drilling is the way to meet that goal.” He says he’s also concerned about the potential environmental impact if something went wrong on an offshore rig near Delaware. “I also worry about the damage that oil spills could do to the tourism that drives the Delaware coastal economy.”
A poll conducted by Monmouth University in New Jersey last year found that 46% of Mid-Atlantic residents supported offshore drilling. In Delaware, 52% supported drilling, and 51% in New Jersey were in favor of drilling.