The tragedy that occurred five years ago today is not a distant memory for many: an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Over 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico before responders were able to cap the sunken oil rig 87 days later. Five years later, many local fisheries, wildlife and economies are still struggling to recover. Unfortunately, the same fate now threatens the southeastern Atlantic coast after the federal government paved the way for offshore drilling activity in the region for the first time in decades.
The good news, however, is that East Coast citizens are speaking out loudly to protect their coastlines, heritages and livelihoods. Last week, Georgetown, South Carolina passed a resolution opposing offshore oil and gas activity and seismic airgun blasting — and brought the total number of resolutions against offshore exploration and/or development to 50.
Fifty — yes, 50! — East Coast cities and towns have officially come out in opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and/or development. It could not be more evident that citizens up and down the coast do not want to open their coastline to this dangerous practice and jeopardize their way of life.
It’s extremely unsettling that five years after the BP oil disaster the U.S. is still planning to move forward with offshore oil and gas activity and not listening to its own citizens.
— Oceana climate and energy campaign director, Claire Douglass
Georgetown’s unanimous vote against these dangerous activities complement other resolutions, which have been passed in New Jersey, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Carolina Beach, N.C. spearheaded the opposition movement and passed the first resolution in February 2014.
We must let the U.S. government know that just because you can't see the damage, it doesn’t mean it is not occurring. It is our duty as stewards of these coastal areas to take the first stand and protect these amazing creatures.
Enough is enough. After every abuse we have dealt these magnificent and ancient animals, we owe it to them to take a stand against this threat in order to give them peace and quiet in their water.
— Johnny Miller, Vice Mayor/City Commissioner of Fernandina Beach, Fla., told Oceana
In addition to these towns, more than 400 local elected officials, 163 conservation and animal welfare organizations, 65 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and more have also called on President Obama to protect the Atlantic from offshore exploration and development. Last summer, members of Florida’s congressional delegation, including Senator Bill Nelson, wrote to President Obama reiterating their opposition to oil and gas exploration off their coast. And just last month, 75 leading marine scientists wrote to President Obama, stating that “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain.”
Each year, in Georgetown County, some 540,000 tourists put more than $232 million into our economy. Oil and toxic chemical spills are a regular, not rare, occurrence on offshore rigs. These constant spills pollute the water and would leave their residue on our beaches, marshes and in our rivers and creeks. The beauty of our current coastline would be spoiled, as would our appeal to future residents, retirees, families and the companies that serve them.
— Jack Scoville, Mayor of Georgetown, S.C., said in an op-ed in the Georgetown Times
In July 2014, the Obama Administration issued a Record of Decision approving the first step to offshore oil and gas drilling: the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast — which emit a series of dynamite-like blasts, for days to weeks at a time, from the sea surface to seafloor in search of oil and gas deposits. According to the government’s own estimates, these blasts could injure up to 138,000 marine mammals — including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale — while disrupting necessary activities like breeding and feeding of millions more. In addition, these blasts can kill fish eggs and larvae, and keep fish from important habitats.
The Town of Nags Head and its Board of Commissioners strongly oppose offshore seismic testing and oil exploration off our coast. It is unconscionable that greed by a few companies would be allowed to damage our ocean wildlife and threaten our irreparable pristine beaches for so little economic gain for our nation. We must strive to defeat these opportunists before the damage cannot be repaired.
— Bob Edwards, Mayor of Nags Head, N.C. told Oceana
Then, in January, the Obama Administration issued its draft five-year plan, which paves the way for offshore oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic, before exploration activities have even begun. The plan also confirmed new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Arctic Ocean.
The fact that the BOEM considers injuring 138,000 marine mammals acceptable behavior in the pursuit of fossil fuels shows flagrant disregard for the oceanic resources upon which all coastal communities depend for our economic vitality and quality of life. It is imperative that local governments take a unified stand in opposition to seismic airgun testing in the absence of responsible federal oversight to protect one of the world's greatest assets.
— Paul Wolff, Tybee Island, Ga. Councilman, told Oceana
Coastal activity in Atlantic states, including fishing, tourism, recreation and more, support about 1.4 million jobs and net about $95 billion in gross domestic product ever year, according to a recent Oceana report. Subjecting coastal economies to the same risks that devastated the Gulf region is too dangerous — especially when there have not been significant advancements in oil spill safety and response over the past five years. Furthermore, Oceana’s report also found that offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean without carrying the risk of a devastating spill.
A decision about whether or not offshore seismic testing and drilling, for the little oil that may exist off our coast, is a no brainer. We should loudly say “NO.” Fortunately, oil is not a matter of national security; the U.S. has reached a high level of energy independence since we have more than we can use, with plenty of gas and oil identified under the ground.
Now is the opportune time to balance our dependence on oil and gas with complementary sources of energy.
— Billy Keyserling, Mayor of Beaufort, S.C., told Oceana
Oceana’s grassroots team works with local citizens and politicians to raise awareness about how this activity threatens their fisheries, livelihoods and economies that depend on a healthy ocean. In addition, Oceana produced a documentary, “Drill, Spill, Repeat,” that highlights the devastating impacts of the BP oil disaster and brings to life the dangers of proposed seismic airgun blasting. Oceana also advocates for clean energy alternatives, like offshore wind.
Click here to learn more about Oceana’s campaign to protect the Atlantic coast, and here to learn more about the different ways you can take action, like signing our petition by April 29, to help stop seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling activity.
Update, May 11, 2015: Since publishing this blog post, the total number of resolutions along the East Coast opposing offshore exploration and/or development has increased to 60, including some major southeast cities like Columbia, S.C., Charleston County, S.C. and Savannah, G.A. The headline of this article has also been changed to reflect the mounting opposition. Click here to see the full list of municipalities that have passed resolutions.