Plan opens N.E. waters to oil drilling

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 9:45am

A proposal by the federal government to open up North Atlantic waters to offshore oil drilling has local and state officials concerned about possible impacts to the state’s tourism industry and the environment.

The Department of Interior Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy would open up East Coast waters to oil and gas contracts. Federal waters south of New Jersey and into the eastern section of the Gulf of Mexico are, at this point, not open to new offshore oil drilling leases.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo called Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Friday, Jan, 12, to express her opposition to the plan. After the call, Raimondo issued the following statement:

"The President is endangering the health of nearly all coastal waters in our country, including our 400 miles of coastline in Rhode Island, so that rich oil companies can get richer. The North Atlantic region is home to one of the most productive and sensitive marine ecosystems in the world, not to mention Rhode Island's tourism, recreation and fishing industries. We've taken action over the past few years to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative energy sources. We are home to the nation's first offshore windfarm. We cannot take this step backwards. Now is the time for Rhode Islanders to make their voices heard and tell President Trump to protect our waters."

Raimondo Press Secretary David Ortiz added, “Gov. Raimondo spoke on the phone with Sec. Zinke to express her opposition to offshore drilling expansion and asked for an exemption for Rhode Island. She also expressed how damaging offshore drilling would be to New England’s regional marine ecosystem and economy. The Secretary committed to coming to Rhode Island and working with us. He made no commitment on giving us an exemption.”

Locally, a public hearing on the plan, sponsored by the Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM), was scheduled to be held in Providence, but that meeting was cancelled. 

According to a report on CNN, every governor, with one exception, in states with coastal waters on the East Coast has either rejected the idea, or expressed concerns about it. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, has supported the proposal. Each of the three states bordering the Pacific Ocean — California, Oregon, and Washington — are also opposed to the plan.

A press release available on the website of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, stated that a bi-partisan coalition of senators has introduced legislation to prevent the offshore drilling. “The New England Coastal Protection Act responds to a move by the Trump administration to open up Atlantic waters to offshore oil and natural gas exploration and extraction, putting vital coastline at risk and threatening a central economic engine for New England,” the press release stated. 

“The Trump administration won’t be following through on its reckless choice to allow oil and gas drilling off Rhode Island’s coast if New England’s bipartisan members of Congress have anything to say about it,” said Whitehouse. “For the potential gain of corporate fossil fuel interests, offshore drilling would threaten the Ocean State’s coastal economy and jobs in our state, including fishermen and the thousands of people employed in tourism and recreation along Narragansett Bay.” 

“The Trump Administration’s offshore drilling expansion plan is a threat to our economy, the environment, and public health. Rhode Islanders don’t want offshore oil rigs drilling along our coastline and their voices deserve to be heard,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., in a statement. “This bill would help us to prevent oil and gas drilling in New England waters.”

Sen. Whitehouse’s press release cites a statistic from the Conservation Law Foundation: “[O]cean and coastal industries, including tourism, fishing, and recreation, generate more than $17.5 billion in New England annually. Expanding drilling in the Atlantic would harm New England’s vital industries, and significantly increase the chances of environmental disaster in the region.”

Block Island Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Szabo put it succinctly:

“That’s not something we would support.” 

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