Today, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its draft five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf. The plan, which covers all potential leasing from 2017 to 2022, includes parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. In addition, President Obama permanently withdrew some of the important wildlife areas of the Arctic Ocean from future oil and gas leasing. The Atlantic planning area includes the waters off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Oceana, which is opposed to offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic, said that while Obama recognized the importance of specific areas in the Arctic, the plan ignores East Coast opposition, past disasters and threats to economies and marine life. Jacqueline Savitz, the organization’s vice president for the United States, released the following statement in response to the new draft plan:
“This 5-year plan could destroy our coastal economies for decades to come, costing future generations the fishing livelihoods that have been part of their local fabric for generations. This proposal would open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling for the first time in U.S. history. It could lead to a coastline scattered with oil and gas rigs. Commercial fishing, tourism and recreation economies would suffer from routine oil leaks as well as the looming risk of a Deepwater Horizon-like oil disaster stretching along the East Coast. It’s not something people on the coast want to experience. Oceana’s own analysis finds that offshore wind in the Atlantic would produce twice as much energy and twice as many jobs as offshore drilling, without the risk of a catastrophic spill.
The Arctic Ocean is the worst possible place we could allow drilling. The push to develop the region has put our oceans at risk, led to controversy, litigation, government investigations, and, in 2012, near disaster. There is no good reason to continue down that path by selling even more leases in the Arctic Ocean. Companies are not ready to operate safely, have not explored the leases they already own, and many have walked away from leases they bought over the last decade. We need a fresh start based on science and precaution when it comes to the Arctic, not more business as usual.
While we are disappointed by the inclusion of the Arctic in the five-year program, we applaud the President’s action to protect Hanna Shoal and coastal areas along the Chukchi Sea and in the Beaufort Sea. Scientists, agencies, and many others have all highlighted the ecological importance of these areas where walrus rest on sea ice floes between foraging, bowhead whales migrate between the ice floes, and other Arctic wildlife thrives. Withdrawal of these areas from oil and gas leasing is a first step, and we hope the Department of the Interior will utilize their targeted leasing approach for the Arctic to keep leasing from occurring in other important ecological areas Oceana and others have identified.
Despite the growth of the oil and gas industry, offshore drilling is still no safer than it was five years ago when the Gulf Spill captivated Americans for months as we awaited an end to the gushing oil. Since then, Congress has not passed a single bill that would prevent such a disaster from happening again. The myth that more energy produced at home, means lower gas prices is simply untrue – oil is sold on the world market and a majority of what we produce at home is shipped overseas.
Even the exploration in itself is extremely dangerous. The Obama administration is currently reviewing applications to use seismic airguns that make dynamite-like blasts to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida. Based on the government’s own estimates, seismic blasting in the Atlantic could harm fish populations while injuring as many as 138,000 marine mammals like whales and dolphins, and disturbing the vital activities of as many as 13.5 million more. To date, more than 60 Members of Congress, 200 elected officials and 29 coastal communities in the blast zone have publically opposed or voiced concern over the use of seismic airguns off the East Coast.”
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.