Administration Withdraws Atlantic Offshore Proposal

File image courtesy BOEM

By MarEx 2016-03-15 21:05:21

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it was withdrawing a proposal to lease blocks of the United States' Atlantic outer continental shelf for offshore oil and gas exploration.

In a statement emphasizing areas of continued possibility for drilling, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said that the proposed leasing program for 2017-2022 would examine 13 sites in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

However, the program “does not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area due to current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses,” the department said.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Jewell said. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

A first draft of the program was released in January 2015 and faced immediate opposition in Atlantic states, notably New Jersey, where Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez led a lobbying campaign to stop the initiative. The proposed drilling would not have been directly off its shores, but the state’s tourism industry and many residents objected to any risk of a spill, reflecting continued public concern after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.

Areas of the Pacific outer continental shelf were not included in the proposal, nor were they in the draft proposal in 2015; the department cited the “long-standing position of the Pacific coast states in opposition to oil and gas development off their coast.”

"This is a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources,” Jewell said. "The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest and established infrastructure."

In a statement Tuesday, American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard slammed the cancellation of the Atlantic leases. “This decision stunts the safe and responsible path to securing the domestic energy supplies future generations of Americans will need. This also wipes out an opportunity to create scores of additional new jobs for Americans along the Atlantic coast and nationwide,” he said.

National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi agreed. “These kinds of decisions forfeit tremendous future economic benefits and risks our nation’s recently earned status as the global energy leader,” he said.

However, climate activists said that the decision did not go far enough. “Any new offshore drilling will be a stain on President Obama’s climate legacy,” said executive director May Boeve. “If the President is going to meet the targets he agreed to at the climate talks in Paris, he needs to keep fossil fuels in the ground, or in this case, under the sea.” A group of five Nobel laureates concurred in part in a statement Monday, calling for a moratorium on arctic leases such as the current proposal's Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea blocks.