By Alexcia Best and Claudia Davis
This summer’s extreme weather has given us a glimpse at the devastating path unchecked fossil fuel emissions will send us down if we fail to curb our dependence on this source of energy. Oceana continues to keep up the fight against offshore drilling from coast to coast, and we were joined by more than 150 elected officials and business owners across the country who conveyed their opposition to new offshore oil and gas leasing along U.S. coasts.
Fossil fuel use is driving the climate crisis and endangering human lives. As the summer season unfolded, evidence of the growing crisis became difficult to ignore. July 2023 was the hottest July ever recorded, fueling deadly heatwaves around the world and devastating wildfires from Canada to Hawaii – some of which are still raging. Severe storms were less predictable than ever, making landfall in Southern California and Maine in August and September. Over the course of the season, dramatic flooding caught people in Kentucky, Vermont, Nevada, and California by surprise.
All of these climate events will be exacerbated by new oil and gas leasing. In the United States, the future of offshore drilling will be determined by President Biden in the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2023-2028, also known as the Five-Year Plan, which is expected to be released in September 2023. This plan outlines the number and location of leases that the federal government will offer for sale to the oil and gas industry.
President Biden previously committed to preventing new offshore drilling while on the campaign trail in 2020. If the president ignores his promise and includes new leasing in the next plan, he will lock us into decades of fossil fuel dependence and give even more power to the oil and gas industry. But pressure to act on the climate crisis is mounting on all sides.
On July 25th, Oceana released a bipartisan letter from elected officials across the country calling on President Biden to issue a new Five-Year Plan with no new offshore oil and gas leasing. The letter was signed by more than 100 elected officials from around the country and included city council members, mayors, and state representatives.
“Our nation’s oldest city likely wouldn’t be thriving over the history of human habitation if it weren’t for all that our oceans provide, such as habitat for the species we love, recreational opportunities, and fisheries,” said St. Augustine Commissioner Barbara Blonder, who both signed the letter and helped spearhead the unanimous passing of a resolution urging no new leasing in the Five Year Plan. “None of these essential provisions are compatible with offshore oil drilling.”
The Half Moon Bay City Council in California passed a resolution opposing the expansion of offshore drilling “in the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere.”
“The vitality of my community and all of coastal California depend on a healthy and climate resilient ocean and shoreline,” Half Moon Bay council member Debbie Ruddock said after signing the letter. “Please partner with us, Mr. President, to protect our ocean and shorelines and reject any new leases for offshore oil drilling.”
On September 17th, over 75,000 demonstrators gathered in New York City to pressure President Biden to stop oil and gas projects and phase down drilling. This was just days after the state of California filed a sweeping lawsuit against the oil industry’s biggest players, claiming companies have misled the public on the threats of fossil fuels. And in August, a judge in Montana ruled that the state could no longer approve future fossil fuel projects without considering the effects of climate change.
On September 20th, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy released a report on the ocean as a solution to climate change, utilizing Oceana’s research which found that stopping the expansion of offshore oil and gas extraction could prevent the release of over 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year by 2050.
Also on September 20th, more than 50 individual business owners from across the country issued a letter to President Biden urging him to keep his promise to prevent new oil and gas drilling.
“Businesses and communities are facing the impacts of warming oceans, rising seas, and increasingly disastrous weather patterns,” the letter states. “People living along the Gulf of Mexico, coastal Alaska, and elsewhere have shouldered the burdens imposed by the fossil fuel industry for far too long—from toxic oil spills that foul our beaches and trigger loss of confidence in seafood safety, to the long-term human health impacts from spills felt years later. Though we live and work in places across the nation, we all believe that that these injustices should not be perpetuated anywhere, and that none of the 3.3 million American jobs in fishing, tourism, and recreation and the $250 billion in GDP our clean coast economy generates should be placed in jeopardy by drilling.”
These concerns are shared across industries, from tourism and recreation to manufacturing and real estate.
This hottest summer also saw three cities in Florida pass resolutions specifically urging President Biden to prevent new drilling, building on the 385 resolutions passed by other cities and towns in previous years. As the season ended in Washington, congressional champions introduced more than a dozen bills in 2023 to protect our coasts from expanded offshore oil and gas development.
Oceana and our allies have been campaigning for more than a decade, building opposition to offshore drilling. This Five-Year Plan’s development process started under President Trump, who originally proposed opening nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling. Coastal communities, businesses and every East and West Coast governor at the time opposed his massive expansion of offshore drilling. States such as Florida and New Jersey passed bills to oppose offshore drilling in federal waters off their coasts. Following the loud opposition to offshore drilling, President Trump issued a 10-year moratorium on offshore drilling from North Carolina to Florida.
In July 2022, President Biden issued the next iteration of the Five-Year Plan that proposed up to 11 lease sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, as well as Cook Inlet in Alaska. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, holding 11 new fossil fuel auctions would sanction up to 70 years of additional fossil-fuel extraction, with the potential to emit up to 3.5 billion tons of carbon pollution. During the public comment period, more than 760,000 people called for no new leases, and business owners who rely on a healthy ocean raised their voices:
“Our coastline contributes to jobs, robust research on marine life, and a thriving tourism industry. All of these things are possible because we have a clean and natural landscape,” said Katie Rodgers-Hubbard, owner of Lite Foot Company in Savannah, Georgia. “Offshore drilling poses a threat to every single one of those aspects. It is not worth taking the risk to our marine life, to our jobs, to our tourism, to our beauty. We need President Biden to do his part.”
The solution is clear: President Biden must prevent new oil and gas leasing and move us toward a viable clean energy future.