Too Much to Lose:
Communities Oppose Plan to Open the Southeast Coast to Offshore Drilling
In 2015, the federal government proposed opening the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to offshore drilling. This action would be a significant shift in federal policy and a threat to the environment, economy, and lifestyle of the Southeast coast. At the same time, the federal government is reviewing applications for companies to use seismic airguns to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor, stretching from Delaware to Florida.
Along the East Coast, towns and cities have united to oppose offshore drilling and related activities with resolutions against offshore drilling and/or seismic testing for oil. And elected officials are listening to their constituents: Southeastern mayors, U.S. Representatives, and Senators have written to express disapproval of offshore drilling and testing.
In March 2016, the process worked: the federal government listened to the concerns of coastal communities and finalized an oil and gas leasing plan that did not include the Atlantic. However, the new federal administration has indicated it is considering such a plan.
Big Oil Over Local Businesses and Jobs
The oil and gas industry has worked with intense pressure to try and open up the Southeast coast to offshore drilling with promises of new jobs and public revenues. But tourism and fishing—both commercial and recreational—are the economic backbone of hundreds of towns and cities along the coast. Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product from fishing, tourism, and recreation rely on healthy ocean waters and clean beaches. This far outweighs any potential jobs or economic gain that could ever be provided from offshore drilling.
Established, thriving coastal industries would be put at risk by drilling, both through the threat of a catastrophic spill like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and through the impacts of routine drilling operations. Even without a major spill, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, traffic, and routine spills and accidents—would irreparably change our coastal communities and economies.
The Southeast Coast Is Environmentally Valuable—and Fragile
The Southeast Coast is one of the most environmentally vulnerable and valuable regions of the country, making it one of the most catastrophic areas for a potential spill. Dozens of national wildlife refuges, marine protected areas, and national seashores and beaches are located along the coast. The coastal environment provides protection not just to wildlife, but to people living in these areas. Marshes and hammocks help protect against dangerous hurricanes, while coastal wetlands act as the front lines against flood protection and erosion control. Hundreds of species of unique wildlife that live and flourish on beaches and off the coast would be adversely affected by a spill.
Seismic Exploration Alone Will Harm the Marine Environment
Even before any drilling starts, oil and gas expansion into the Atlantic is likely to do serious harm to the environment—and it opens the door to drilling, which the coast overwhelmingly rejected. Seismic testing uses loud airguns to locate fossil fuels deep beneath the ocean floor, firing intense blasts repeatedly for days or weeks with multiple companies covering the same areas repeatedly. Seismic testing is a means to one end: offshore drilling, and both drilling and seismic testing are widely opposed by residents, businesses, and local governments up and down the East Coast.
Based on the government's own estimates, seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic could harm as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins or whales. Seismic testing could impact economically important fisheries, which contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to state economies and employ over 60,000 individuals, by closing off important fishing grounds to fishermen and impacting important fish habitat.