Conservation

No New Drilling Off the U.S. Atlantic Coast; Arctic Still in the Crosshairs

The Obama administration’s new lease plans take some opposition into account, but 13 sites in the Arctic and the Gulf are open for oil and gas leases.

In a surprise move, the Obama administration announced today that it would not allow drilling off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The announcement, which covers offshore oil and gas leases across the U.S., upends a proposal floated by the administration last year to open up the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling. The history of the Atlantic lease proposal, and the key players behind it, were reported in an investigative report by Facing South, a publication of the Institute for Southern Studies. In it, the authors wrote:

Earlier [in 2015], energy interests scored a major victory when the Obama administration announced it would include waters off the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing beginning in 2017—the first time a federal lease has been proposed for the Atlantic since the early 1980s.

The oil and gas industry's success in getting Atlantic drilling back on the agenda can be traced in large part to the full-throttle lobbying efforts of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition—a secretive group founded in 2011 to revive and expand offshore drilling in the wake of the BP disaster.

Based in the offices of its chairman, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, the Governors Coalition now includes member governors from nine coastal states. The group describes itself as the voice of these state leaders in their efforts to "foster a productive dialogue" with the federal government over the future of offshore oil policy.

However, an 18-month investigation by Facing South finds that despite its image of being a group of publicly-elected state officials, the Governors Coalition is largely run and managed by two groups tied to the oil and gas industry.

After the proposal was made public last year, hundreds of people and businesses protested it, and the decision to begin seismic testing offshore. Some critics were concerned about the effects on the environment that the drilling would cause. Others were more concerned about the potential economic fallout, as studies have shown that seismic testing decreases fishing hauls, and some worried that drilling could affect the tourist appeal of places like the Outer Banks. The Pentagon also fought the proposal, stating that the drilling could impede offshore training exercises critical to protecting the East Coast.

In the same announcement, the Obama Administration still proposes leasing at three sites in the Arctic and 10 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the administration’s reversal on Twitter. Read about Audubon’s take on the announcement here.

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