Feds announce Atlantic drilling plan
By Frank TursiCoastal Review Online
Obama Administration did the expected Tuesday and announced plans to
potentially open portions of the Atlantic coast, including offshore
North Carolina, to oil and natural gas drilling for the first time in
almost three decades.
In keeping with Obama’s all-of-the above approach to energy development, the federal Bureau of Energy Management, or BOEM, yesterday released a draft five-year leasing plan
that would begin in 2017 for offshore drilling. BOEM last week started
the process to lease portions of federal waters off the North Carolina
coast for commercial wind energy.
plan includes all the federal waters 50 miles off the mid- and
south-Atlantic coasts, from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to the
Georgia-Florida border. Also included in the plan are areas in the
central and western Gulf of Mexico and off the north coast of Alaska.
announcement is one of the initial steps in a long federal permitting
and review process for offshore leasing, exploration and finally
production. That process for the Atlantic, where no wells exist, would
likely take more than a decade to play out if it continues to move
“The draft proposal prioritizes
development in the Gulf of Mexico, which is rich in resources and has
well-established infrastructure to support offshore oil and gas
programs,” Sally Jewell, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior,
said in the press release announcing the plan. BOEM is an agency in her
department. “We continue to consider oil and gas exploration in the
Arctic and propose for further consideration a new area in the Atlantic
Ocean, and we are committed to gathering the necessary science and
information to develop resources the right way and in the right places.
We look forward to continuing to hear from the public as we work to
finalize the proposal.”
She can take that to the bank. Offshore
drilling is a contentious issue in North Carolina and along much of the
East Coast. The last leasing proposal off North Carolina, by Mobil Oil
Corp. back in the mid-1980s, spawned years of debate and triggered
permit challenges and lawsuits before Mobil dropped its plans.
Reaction from around the state was swift yesterday.
disappointed that the administration plans to open up North Carolina’s
coast to offshore drilling,” noted Dustin Chicurel-Bayard,
communications director for the N.C. Sierra Club.
“Drilling for fossil fuels off the North Carolina coast would
contribute to the carbon emissions that are driving climate change. We
owe it to our communities to invest in clean-energy solutions.”
Southern Environmental Law Center stressed the risks to the state’s
natural resources and coastal tourist-based economy. Sierra Weaver, a
senior attorney, noted that Obama cancelled a planned lease sale off
Virginia’s coast in May 2010 in the wake of the BP accident in the Gulf
Mexico that spilled an estimated 130 million barrels of oil, causing
unprecedented environmental damage.
drilling off our Southern coasts jeopardizes the communities, jobs and
beloved beaches that are the very heart of our coastal states,” Weaver
said. “As we’ve seen with the Exxon Valdez and BP disasters, a single
oil spill can devastate a coast for years, threatening everything about
why we choose to live, work and play on our Southern Atlantic coasts.”
not all the reaction was negative. The state’s biggest oil cheerleader,
Gov. Pat McCrory, welcomed the prospect of oil rigs off his state’s
coast. He, along with the governors of neighboring South Carolina and
Virginia, have been lobbying Obama to open up the Atlantic to drilling.
like to thank Secretary Jewell for taking a step in the right direction
to help North Carolina become a significant energy-producing state,”
McCrory said. “Responsible exploration and development of oil and gas
reserves off our coast would create thousands of good paying jobs, spur
activity in a host of associated industries, generate billions of
dollars in tax revenue and move America closer to energy
Those jobs depend on how much
oil or natural gas is out there. At the moment, that's a matter of
speculation. A BOEM study in 2012 estimated that 3.3 billion barrels of
oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of gas might lie beneath the ocean
along the Atlantic Seaboard. Those seem like big numbers, but they
represent about 4 percent of the total estimated recoverable oil
resources and 8 percent of the total estimated recoverable gas
resources in federal waters. They pale beside the estimated oil
reserves off the Arctic coast of Alaska.
estimates date from the 1970s and '80s, and industry and other drilling
supporters consider them too low. The Obama administration has approved
seismic testing to get a better idea of how much oil and gas lie
beneath the Atlantic. The testing could begin this spring.
with the proposed leasing plan, BOEM also announced its intent to
prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the
leasing. The plan and the intent to do an EIS will be available for
public comment for 60 days following the publication of the documents
in the Federal Register.
For more information, including maps, visit BOEM’s website.
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. Reporter Kirk Ross
contributed to this story.You can read other stories about the North
Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)