For Immediate Release
Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney
Marirose Pratt, Associate Attorney
Cat McCue, Senior Communications Manager.
Gulf Oil Spill Highlights Need to Put Atlantic Coast, Eastern Gulf Off-Limits to Offshore Drilling, Groups Say
Obama Administration Should Nix Drilling in New Areas and Focus on Clean Energy
WASHINGTON - A coalition of 28 groups from New Jersey to Alabama joined forces
today to tell the Obama Administration to permanently withdraw the Mid-
and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf from any drilling for offshore oil
and gas. (See below for a complete list.)
Prior to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the groups had raised
concerns about serious harm to the coastal communities, economy and
environment in these areas from potential oil and gas drilling as
proposed by the Obama Administration on March 31. The ongoing crisis in
the Gulf, caused in part by the utter failure of federal oversight of
offshore drilling that has now come to light, is a tragic example of the
risks involved and the lives and livelihoods at stake with any expanded
Southern Environmental Law Center, a regional non-profit advocacy
organization, submitted formal comments on behalf of the groups to the
Department of Interior today detailing the multiple reasons why the
agency must permanently withdraw the Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern
Gulf from its proposed 5-year (2012-2017) offshore drilling plan. The
deadline for public comments is today.
the comments here (pdf).
"Opening these areas to oil and gas drilling would be reckless in the
extreme. We are witnessing the dire consequences the oil spill is
having in the fragile ecosystems of the central Gulf. A spill would be
just as devastating in the Mid- or South Atlantic or the eastern Gulf.
In fact, the government ranks the shorelines of these areas as more
environmentally sensitive to oil spills than the central Gulf," said
SELC attorney Marirose Pratt.
The Mid- and South Atlantic and eastern Gulf rank just above the
central Gulf as the Outer Continental Shelf regions whose coastal
habitats are most environmentally sensitive to oil spills due to their
extensive coastal lowlands made up of wetlands, marshes, swamps and
other sensitive shoreline features, according to recent analyses by the
Interior Department cited in the groups' comment letter.
The coastal and marine resources of the Mid- and South Atlantic and
eastern Gulf support the region's substantial fishing and tourism
economies. In 2008, there were $262.8 million worth of commercial fish
landings in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,
according to NOAA. Tourism provides 30,000 jobs on North Carolina's
Outer Banks. In Virginia, the 18 cities and counties of the Chesapeake
Bay and coast brought in $4.25 billion in tourism revenue in 2007.
Yet, the three Outer Continental Shelf regions hold just a little
over seven months of oil and 15 months of natural gas at current rates
of U.S. consumption, according to government estimates.
"The calculation is crystal clear - risking the long-term
sustainability of the South's fisheries and coastal economies is not
worth the short-term gain in oil and gas. Far from it," said SELC
attorney Deborah Murray. "With families and businesses in the Gulf
suffering and more wildlife dying every day, we can not afford to delay
immediate action to shift to clean, sustainable energy."
In their comments, the groups note that federal law requires Minerals
Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,
Regulation, and Enforcment) to consider alternatives as part of the
environmental review of its proposed 5-year plan. So far, the only
alternatives the agency has identified are simply changing the number or
frequency of lease sales, limiting leasing areas, and including coastal
buffers. The groups contend MMS must rigorously explore alternatives to
oil and gas drilling in the first place, including meeting energy needs
through efficiency programs and renewable sources.
Virginia was on track to be the first on the Atlantic with offshore
oil and drilling until Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar suspended
the leasing process on May 27; however, the lease sale remains in the
proposed 5-year plan. Much of the 3 million acre lease area overlaps
with areas used by the Navy for training operations based mostly out of
the Norfolk Naval Base - the world's largest and an economic mainstay of
Hampton Roads. The Department of Defense has consistently opposed oil
and gas drilling in Virginia due to concerns of conflicts with its
operations; the agency reiterated those concerns earlier this year.
Organizations on the letter:
Alabama Rivers Alliance Altamaha Riverkeeper & Altamaha
Center for a Sustainable Coast (GA)
Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper (AL)
Coastal Conservation League (SC)
Conservation Council of North Carolina
Conservation Voters of South Carolina
Defenders of Wildlife
Environment New Jersey
Glynn Environmental Coalition (GA)
Hurricane Creekkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek (AL)
North Carolina Coastal Federation
North Carolina Conservation Network
North Carolina Native Plant Society, Southeast Coast Chapter
Ogeechee Riverkeeper (GA)
Pamlico-Tar River Foundation (NC)
PenderWatch & Conservancy (NC)
Sierra Club, North Carolina Chapter
Sierra Club, South Carolina Chapter
Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter
Southern Environmental Law Center
Virginia League of Conservation Voters
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.