Last Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the cancellation of plans to move forward with offshore oil and natural gas drilling off the South Atlantic coast, as originally proposed in the President’s 5-year offshore energy plan. For almost a year, the Obama administration was pursuing Atlantic offshore oil drilling off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia that were set to commence in 2017. The plan included leasing oil and gas along the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean.  Department of the Interior’s Sally Jewell made the announcement over twitter last week, and a mixed response of praise and criticism has erupted in the wake of the decision.

Reaction to Possible Atlantic Offshore Drilling:

Jewell stated the reason for revision of their energy plan is due to, “conflicts with national defense, economic activities…and opposition from many local communities”.  Naturally, residents of coastal communities along the Atlantic seaboard fear that leasing offshore oil and gas permits would transform the view from their beautiful waterfront property into one that is crowded by oil rigs in the distance.  Driving along the California coast on the historic Pacific Coast Highway, a once impeccable scenery is tainted by hundreds of oil rigs resting near the shore.  Remembering the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many residents thought the

Oil rig disrupts tourism and local seacoast activities.

Oil rig disrupts tourism and local seacoast activities.

potential of a spill off their coast was a cost to the environment and economy that they couldn’t afford to pay.  The negative economic of offshore drilling to coastal towns that rely on tourism to stimulate their economy, would outweigh any gains made by the oil industry.  This is a true victory for the common citizen as their persistence and efforts to restrict offshore drilling have again been successful, proving that a loud enough opposing cry can still be heard in today’s world. Environmentalist, Jacqueline Savitz, Vice-President of Oceana proclaimed that coastal communities have finally won a, “David vs. Goliath fight against the riches companies on the planet”.  Public opinion in the effected states were certainly taken into consideration when amending the 5-year energy plan to exclude the Atlantic; however, they were many more politically charged elements that influenced this decision.

Unlike the constituents of the coastal towns who opposed the oil and gas leasing, both the Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Time Kaine were long-time proponents of the project.  Both complained that the Department of Defense (DoD) had never previously shared their concerns with them, thus shocking many politicians fighting for passage of offshore drilling leases.  Recently, Jewell requested the Pentagon reevaluate the area where the offshore drilling was planned to take place.  Their findings were published last Sunday stating that there were, “areas where the [Defense’s] offshore readiness activities are not compatible” with future oil and gas activities.  Furthermore, the DoD believes that seismic testing which accompanies oil exploration of the ocean will greatly interfere with naval training exercises.

Predictable, Negative Responses:

As expected, the backlash from oil and natural gas companies was scalding, as they

Original offshore drilling proposal.

Original offshore drilling proposal.

promote American oil and gas industry as a benevolent force that provides jobs and lower gas prices to Americans.  In their comments they paint environmentalists as enemies who are trying to halt American business. Conversely, many environmentalists recognize the importance of healthy coastal economies; however, they see that the long-term benefits of preserving coastal tourism is far more lucrative and beneficial than letting big oil dominate the market.

Though environmentalists are claiming this as an environmental conservation victory fueled by the strength of the residents along the coast, there are many more political and economic reasons that the Chesapeake Bay, Outer Banks, South Carolina Low country, and Georgia barrier islands have been spared.  Though this is certainly a step forward towards a more sustainable future, however the caveat is that without the support of the DoD the plan to lease oil and gas would have continued.

Progress in Marine Conservation:

Similar to Obama’s decision on Keystone pipeline, he is using his second presidential term to fulfill his promises to protect natural resources and foster a future that includes conservation land, natural places, and animals.  Both of his decisions denying oil and gas companies to have complete priority over U.S. natural resources have gone against public opinion, as 60 percent of Americans surveyed last fall supported offshore drilling.  By solidifying the ban on offshore drilling of the Atlantic seaboard, it hopefully will set a precedent to involve the local communities more in decision making and the importance of protecting natural areas.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/15/obama-pulls-plans-to-allow-oil-drilling-off-southern-atlantic-coast/