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Source: The South Hampton Press

New Offshore Drilling Proposal Could Hit Close To Home; Zeldin Voices Opposition


Posted: January 10, 2018
Originally Published: January 10, 2018

The Trump administration has proposed opening up oceans off nearly all of the United States coasts to oil and gas drilling, and rolling back protections instituted by the Obama administration—provoking a bipartisan backlash locally from both U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin and a cohort of environmentalists.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program last Thursday, January 4. The plan includes 47 potential lease sales by the federal government for drilling sites from 2019 to 2024: 19 sales targeting the Alaskan coast, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic Region. Two of the latter potential sales are in the North Atlantic region, which encompasses Long Island.

Tracey Blythe Moriarty, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s deputy chief in the public affairs office, was quick to point out that the plan is still in its early stages.

But Mr. Zeldin’s office and others already are pushing back against the proposal.

Katie Vincentz, Mr. Zeldin’s communications director, said in an email last week: “The congressman supports an energy strategy that secures American energy independence and drives down costs for Long Islanders. However, the congressman does not support drilling in the waterways off the coast of our district.”

Environmental leaders were even stronger in their denunciations of the policy.

“This is an expansive assault on our oceans that will not spare a single region,” said Franz Matzner, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit based in New York.

“Offshore drilling carries huge risks. Oil spills don’t follow the lines of a map, and a spill anywhere on the Atlantic Coast could decimate the entire Atlantic Coast,” he said, targeting the administration’s possible argument that the impact of any drilling will be limited.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an organization with offices throughout New York as well as Connecticut, shares Mr. Matzner’s concerns.

“This risky scheme opens the floodgates to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling, threatening Long Island coastal economies that rely on clean and healthy oceans,” she said in an email on Monday. “This radical offshore drilling free-for-all is a policy that puts energy industry profits over protection of the public.

“Instead of promoting renewable energy, this president is resurrecting fossil fuels,” she continued. “It’s an abysmal proposal.”

The proposal comes on the heels of the expiration of the 9-cent oil barrel tax, which primarily funded the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, an emergency fund for cleaning up oil spills. It was created in 1990 in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, which released 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The tax was renewed in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act—but there seem to be no congressional plans to extend the tax currently.

In addition, the Trump administration recently announced intentions to roll back regulatory protections put in place by the Obama administration after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History estimates that 200 million gallons of oil bled into the water in the wake of that accident. The Obama administration followed up by imposing safety checks and equipment standards on oil rigs—regulations which the Trump administration plans to eradicate, calling them “unnecessary burdens” on the oil industry.

Kara Jackson, a spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, adds these decisions to her growing list of concerns.

“The risks that our vulnerable ocean and coastal resources and communities would face under this proposal would be exacerbated by the department’s recently announced proposal to roll back safeguards put in place after the historic Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” she said on Monday. “The Nature Conservancy in New York stands with many of our state and local leaders who have already come out in opposition to this proposal.”

Groups in the oil industry applaud the move, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Ocean Industries Association.

“With 94 percent of our nation’s outer continental shelf currently and unnecessarily off limits to oil and gas leasing and exploration, NOIA welcomes the bold and broad offshore leasing proposal released today by the Department of the Interior,” the association said in a press release.

Ms. Moriarty said that the process is currently in a two-month public comment stage following the release of a draft plan, which will end on March 9. The department has set up public meetings and “virtual public houses” for interested parties’ participation.

After March 9, the department will write up its proposed program and publish a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS. “We don’t know how many comments we’ll get, but we think we’ll be able to make public the proposed program in late 2018,” Ms. Moriarty said on Monday.

That unveiling is followed by a three-month public comment period, after which the department will complete a proposed final program and a final PEIS. The plan then goes to Congress and the president for consideration.