OCEAN CITY — Potentially dangerous offshore drilling for oil and natural gas has been put on hold indefinitely, resulting in a tempered celebration for coastal communities and environmental advocacy groups up and down the east coast.
Recently-appointed Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the Wall Street Journal last week the Trump Administration’s plan to open vast areas off the mid-Atlantic coast including Ocean City and Assateague were being put on the back burner indefinitely as the result of a recent legal ruling challenging the initiatives. The news was quickly heralded by coastal communities and environmental advocacy groups up and down the east coast, which, for years, have been staunchly opposed to offshore drilling.
By way of background, offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the Atlantic coast was first proposed during the Obama administration, but was reversed under intense opposition from coastal communities up and down the eastern seaboard along with a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reopening vast areas off the mid-Atlantic coast to offshore oil exploration and drilling, renewing a years-long battle that resulted in the previous administration reversing the plan.
Last November, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it had issued it final Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits allowing seven private sector companies to begin the potentially dangerous practice of seismic air gun testing for oil and gas reserves in the mid-Atlantic, including vast areas off the Ocean City coast. As the name implies, the permits allow for the incidental harassment of marine life off the coast during the testing process including dolphins, whales and other species, for example.
Those approvals triggered a renewed response in opposition to both seismic air gun testing and offshore drilling and excavation. Clearly, the parallel issues are directly related to potential dangers to the ocean environment and the countless species that call it home. Perhaps no less important is the potential harm to the billion-dollar coastal economies up and down the east coast including Ocean City.
Last week, however, Bernhardt announced the administration’s plan to pursue offshore drilling in protected areas off the Atlantic coast had been shelved indefinitely while the federal suit challenging the practice plods through the court system. The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast Vice President Amy MacKown said the decision to back-burner plans for drilling for oil and gas off the coast represented a victory for environmental advocates, albeit a potentially short-term one.
“Today’s announcement by Secretary David Bernhardt is a victory for coastal communities along the Atlantic, though only temporary as the future remains uncertain,” she said. “This plan has received widespread opposition from members of the state’s legislatures as well as critical stakeholders and the broader public.”
MacKown said those same groups must continue its full court press in opposition to future offshore exploration and excavation.
“We cannot afford to let our guard down,” she said. “We must continue to focus on the protection of our marine environments.”
Environmental Entrepreneurs Director of Advocacy Grant Carlisle urged the administration to drop all plans to drill offshore in protected areas along the Atlantic Coast and beyond.
“The administration’s drilling plan should be scrapped permanently,” he said. “Exposing coastal communities to the economic and environmental costs of offshore drilling was never worth it.”
Oceana Chief Policy Officer Jacqueline Savitz said the plan to shelve offshore drilling, at least temporarily, was a credit to the vast number of coastal communities, legislators and advocacy groups who passed resolutions, signed petitions and took action against the proposal, including Ocean City.
“We are encouraged by this move,” she said. “It signals that our campaign and the voices of coastal leaders and communities are working. We may have generated enough opposition to slow this down, but until the Trump plan is final, the president is positioned to open up our coasts at a moment’s notice.”
Oceana Campaign Director Diane Hoskins questioned if the plan to take offshore drilling off the table was just temporary.
“Sidelined indefinitely or completely off the table?” she said. “Anything short of all new areas being protected would be a major problem for the communities and coastal economies who have the most to lose from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”
Surfrider Foundation Environmental Direct Pete Stauffer also praised the administration’s decision to take offshore drilling off the table.
“Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous practice that puts our marine environment, coastal communities and economies at unnecessary risk,” he said. “Moreover, offshore drilling is wildly unpopular across the country as members of both political parties are overwhelmingly opposed to new oil and gas development off our coasts.”