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Federal plan to open coastline for oil and gas drilling draws bipartisan opposition

Brazilian oil platform P-51. Photo: Divulgação Petrobras/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons

A controversial plan advanced by the federal government to open 98 percent of the country’s outer continental shelf for oil and gas exploration, including waters off the coast of New York, is facing bipartisan opposition locally from elected officials and backlash from environmental advocates.

The draft plan, announced last Thursday by federal Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zincke, is hailed by federal officials as “advancing the goal of moving the United States from simply aspiring to energy independence to attaining energy dominance.”

It would allow offshore oil and gas exploration in nearly all U.S. territorial waters, except within a 25-nautical mile coastal buffer. It implements an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in April requiring the U.S. to widen domestic energy exploration. Currently about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf is off-limits to oil and gas drilling under rules adopted last year by the Obama administration.

Enthusiastically backed by the energy industry, the draft plan drew swift, universal opposition from the governors of states up and down the East Coast. Opposition from Florida Gov. Rick Scott prompted the Trump administration to drop Florida from the plan a few days after announcing it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week called the plan “yet another federal assault on our environment” and yesterday said if “Florida gets an exemption, then New York should too.”

“Our beautiful coastline is crucial to this state’s economy. It supports nearly 350,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries,” Cuomo said. “The risk of an oil spill is unacceptable.”

Cuomo has started an online petition asking the interior department to exempt New York from the proposed plan. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said while he supports “an energy strategy that secures American energy independence and drives down costs… on Long Island, however, our waterways are our way of life, and drilling off of Long Island is unacceptable and counterproductive to the well-being of our communities.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone agreed. “In Suffolk County our beautiful coastlines are one of our greatest assets and an integral part of our way of life. Offshore drilling of Long Island’s coast will threaten our communities, our oceans and our marine life,” Bellone said. “We must do all that we can to protect our coastlines for everyone to continue to enjoy.” 

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also voiced opposition to the plan, citing both environmental and economic factors. “Our shoreline is too sensitive. We have a sensitive marine life. I don’t think it’s a good idea for Long Island,” he said.

“Our commercial fishermen have a hard enough time as it is. Now they’ve got to dodge windmills and we’re going to add oil riggings to that too?” LaValle asked.

“I am adamantly opposed to it,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “It threatens years of commitment to restore the Long Island Sound by federal, state and local agencies.

“The environmental desecration of our ocean will certainly lead to environmental desecration of our shores. It threatens a fishing industry that is already struggling under needless federal regulation — regulation, ironically, that’s meant to protect natural resources. All of this just so well-heeled interests can go on a treasure hunt,” Russell said.

“Our ocean waters are not the playgrounds for oil and gas companies, they are supposed to be protected and preserved for the public,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale. “This is a risky scheme that puts energy company profits over protection of our oceans,” she said.  “Long Island is especially economically and environmentally vulnerable to damage from oil spills where tourism, the fishing industry, property values and our quality of life are directly connected to the marine environment,” Esposito said.

The National Ocean Industries Association said a study it conducted with the American Petroleum Institute concluded offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic could create nearly 280,000 new jobs, spur an additional $195 billion in new private investment, contribute up to $24 billion per year to the U.S. economy, generate $51 billion in new revenue for the government, and add 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day to domestic energy production through 2035.

During an appearance yesterday at the White House with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg Trump said, “I am for massive oil, massive gas and everything else.”

In addition to removing Obama administration restrictions on offshore drilling, the Trump administration is also rolling back offshore drilling safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The explosion on the rig killed 11 people and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the sea — the worst oil oil spill in American history.

Safety regulations established by the federal government after the Deepwater Horizon disaster “create an unnecessary burden on operators,” according to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Rolling back the regulations will reduce industry compliance costs by at least $228 million over 10 years, the agency said.

“It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we regulate the OCS,” bureau director Scott Angelle said in a Dec. 28 statement announcing the new relaxed rules. “There was an assumption made previously that only more rules would increase safety, but ultimately it is not an either/or proposition. We can actually increase domestic energy production and increase safety and environmental protection.”

At the same time, Congress allowed a tax that funded federal oil-spill response efforts to expire Jan. 1. The 9-cents-per-barrel tax on domestic and imported oil generated an average of $500 million per year in revenue, according to the government accountability office. It was the main source of revenue for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is intended to help the government respond quickly to oil spills. The fund currently has a $5.7 billion reserve.

The public comment period on the new offshore drilling rule is open until March 9. Submit a comment

Map of Atlantic coast lease areas proposed by the Interior Department.
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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.