Offshore drilling a direct threat to N.J. tourism, group says

     People enjoy the mild weather as they play in a pool of water near the Atlantic Ocean in Wildwood, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

    People enjoy the mild weather as they play in a pool of water near the Atlantic Ocean in Wildwood, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

    Offshore drilling and seismic blasting pose a direct threat to a New Jersey tourism economy that relies on a clean coastline and a healthy ocean ecosystem, a tourism advocacy group says.

    The New Jersey Tourism Industry Association joins special interest organizations, fishery management councils, and local, state, and federal lawmakers who have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s executive order last week that could result the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

    Trump’s action reverses former President Barack Obama’s action late last year that permanently banned drilling in nearly 4 million acres in the northern and middle portions of the Atlantic Ocean.

    In a letter to US Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, NJTIA President Vicki Clark writes that the Atlantic coastline supports nearly 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion in revenue through fishing, tourism, and recreation.

    “Offshore drilling in the Atlantic would produce a coast scattered with oil and gas rigs and would heavily industrialize coastal communities, turning beach towns into commercialized oil towns. When oil disasters have occurred, regional tourism in those areas has declined, even in areas that never saw a drop of oil,” Clark wrote in the letter.

    She added that the seismic air guns used to find oil and gas deposits “produce one of the loudest man-made sounds in the ocean.”

    In March 2016, the Obama administration removed the Atlantic Ocean from lease sales in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which is under the auspices of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and required by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

    Trump’s order directs the U.S. Interior Department to review the current offshore drilling program allowances and asks the department to expand the program.

    “This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating energy exploration,” Trump said during the signing ceremony. “It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our treasury and jobs to our workers.”

    The president added that he’s “unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying energy jobs.”

    Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., representing a portion of the northern Jersey Shore, is vehemently against offshore drilling. He has previously said an oil spill would be devastating to the New Jersey tourism economy, which supports 312,000 jobs and generates $38 billion in revenue annually.

    But Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, an industry trade group, told NJ Spotlight last year that restricting drilling would impact “the poor and middle class, who would benefit most from greater access to affordable, reliable energy.”

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