With the aim of setting a clearer path for domestic energy production for years to come, the Obama administration proposed a plan Tuesday that includes allowing oil drilling off the mid-Atlantic and southeast coasts, a move which drew near-instant opposition in New Jersey.
While the proposal does not include the prospect of drilling off the Jersey Shore, the state of Virginia is included under the plan, which brings the prospect of drilling within a relatively short distance of Cape May County. Environmental advocates have also warned that opening up drilling in one area could lead to other areas being targeted in the future.
“An oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean would not occur in isolation,” Sen. Robert Menendez, Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), said in a joint statement issued after the administration’s plan was released. “The economic consequences of an oil spill near the New Jersey coastline would be catastrophic. Our beaches are a tremendous resource for all those who come here to enjoy them, and they are a huge economic engine for our state.”
The administration’s plan would open up leasing of seabed to drilling between 2017 and 2022 from Virginia to Georgia. It would be the only drilling taking place on the east coast; currently there is no drilling on the eastern seaboard. The same proposal would close off areas of Alaska – the Beaufort and Chukchi seas – to drilling interests, with the administration citing the environmental sensitivity of the region as its reasoning.
“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, at a news conference announcing the plan.
The proposal is part of a five-year plan mandated by congress to set a long-term path for energy exploration. This is not the first time that east coast drilling has been included in such a plan.
“The administration attempted to include oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean in its last Five Year Plan,” the statement from New Jersey’s elected officials said. “Ultimately, however, it was removed due to the ecological and economic resources that would be jeopardized by offshore oil and gas activities. It was a bad idea then and is still a bad idea now.”
Pallone, Menendez and Booker said they would lobby the administration to drop the east coast from the energy plan.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2) also came out against the plan.
“Our tourism, businesses and pristine beaches are not worth risk,” he said.