Oil Drilling In The Atlantic Is About To Become A Reality. Will East Coast Communities Unite To Stop It?

By Allison Arteaga

A storm has been brewing on the horizon for a while now. We’ve all heard the warnings, threats, and fears. But now, it’s upon us. Offshore oil drilling is coming soon to a coastline near you. That is, unless you’ve got something to say about it.

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its Draft Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the years 2017-2022, which, for the first time, included virgin territory in the Atlantic Ocean. If approved, this plan would allow leasing of a large portion of our coast, ranging roughly from Virginia through Georgia, to the highest bidding oil companies.

However, from now until March 30th, those plans are subject to a public comment period, during which citizens can contact the BOEM to express their concerns, and the bureau is required to take those concerns into consideration. So, if you’re an East Coast surfer who’s not cool with the idea of waves having to push past towering offshore oilrigs before reaching breaks like S-Turns or The Washout, now is the time to speak up. And that responsibility extends beyond those regions within the target zone.

“Oil spills don’t respect state boundaries,” says Surfrider Foundation Ocean Program Manager Pete Stauffer. “If you have a spill, there could be impacts to the entire Eastern Seaboard. I also think it’s significant that they’ve included the Atlantic Coast for the first time for potential offshore drilling, because, from the oil industry standpoint, this is the foothold they’ve been looking for. It’s a big concern, and it’s one of the reasons our members and chapters really want to stop this. We don’t want to set a precedent that leads to more drilling.”

What We Can Do:

Right now, it’s essential for concerned citizens to submit comments to BOEM as well as to their elected state and federal officials — and make sure you show up to one of BOEM’s many public meetings scheduled between February 9th and March 11th. “I think part of the reason why we’re seeing this proposal for drilling on the East Coast is that there is some support for it from governors and federal and state representatives in the South Atlantic states,” Stauffer explains. “It really underscores the need for surfers and other people who care about coastal communities to participate in the process. Starting with the coastal communities and building all the way up to the state and federal level, there has to be this consensus that we don’t want offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast.”

Local city governments can get involved too, by passing resolutions against offshore oil drilling and seismic testing that send a political message about the views of their constituents. So far, Surfrider chapters have succeeded in passing 29 local government resolutions, and that number is steadily growing. If ground-up political opposition can be achieved, we may have a shot at protecting our coast. Stauffer says he’s seen it work before. The west coast was left out of the current draft drilling plan, a fact which Stauffer attributes to unified opposition from all three state governors and congressional delegations, for whom memories of the 1969 oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast still burn bright.

Why It’s Important:

Even after our own experience with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it won’t be easy unifying East Coast opinion on the topic of offshore oil drilling, especially in the midst of a national push to lower gas prices and reduce dependence on foreign oil. However, Stauffer says that, in reality, offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic won’t do much to accomplish either of those objectives.

“Gas prices are actually set by international markets, so even if we access all the offshore oil and gas resources we have, it wouldn’t make a significant difference,” he explains. “And when you look at the amount of resources that are available off the Mid and South Atlantic, it’s a fairly modest amount. When you weigh the risks versus the ‘reward’, if you will, it’s pretty small.”

So, in the end, it all comes down to one simple question: Are you willing to roll the dice? When the stakes are the health of our oceans, is it worth taking a gamble?

“The Deepwater Horizon spill showed us that offshore oil drilling carries inherent risks,” Stauffer concludes. “For years, we’ve been told by the oil lobby that ‘offshore drilling is safe’, and ‘we have better technology than we used to’, but then we had the Deepwater-Horizon explosion, and they couldn’t get the flow of oil stopped for 87 days. I think that’s a lesson. You have to imagine what a spill would mean for the Atlantic Coast, in terms of our beaches, our recreation, our tourism, our seafood, the marine environment, the wildlife… It would be devastating.”

Take Action:

  • Provide online public comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and contact your governor and members of the Senate and House of Representatives to express your views on offshore oil drilling. Check out the talking points in this example comment for inspiration.
  • Attend upcoming BOEM East Coast public hearings.
  • Connect with your local ocean preservation organizations and join their efforts to pass local government resolutions against offshore oil drilling and seismic testing.
  • Participate in peaceful protest demonstrations during Hands Across the Sand, coming up on May 16th.
  • Be sure to vote in the next election, and consider candidates’ stances on offshore drilling. If the current drilling plan gets approved, the next presidential administration or congressional delegation could override it before it’s enacted.

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