State Newspapers Highlight Dangers Of Green-Lighting Offshoring Drilling In The Atlantic Ocean

In its draft leasing plan that will set the boundaries for oil development in federal waters from 2017 to 2022, the Obama Administration proposed allowing offshore drilling along the Atlantic Coast between Virginia and Georgia. Newspapers in the states that would be impacted by this plan have published articles and editorials highlighting local opposition and describing the economic and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling. As the administration approaches a final decision on offshore drilling, these concerns identified by state media outlets should inform national media coverage in the days and weeks ahead.

Obama Administration Proposed Allowing Offshore Drilling Along Atlantic Coast, Will Revisit Decision In Early 2016

Obama Administration Proposed Opening Atlantic Coast To Offshore Drilling In Draft Five-Year Leasing Plan. In January, the Obama administration proposed allowing oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast in its draft five-year leasing plan running from 2017 to 2022. The Washington Post reported, “The draft plan envisions a single future oil lease that would cover a portion of middle and southern Atlantic coast, including offshore areas of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and Georgia.” According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, "[t]he Obama Administration is currently reexamining and revising its proposed leasing plan and is expected to release a new draft plan in early 2016." In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that the leasing plan “won't be final until at least the middle part of next year, and the department may opt to take out any of the lease sales it had conditionally included in its proposal earlier this year.” [The Washington Post, 1/27/15; Southern Environmental Law Center, accessed 11/20/15; The Wall Street Journal, 10/16/15]

State Newspaper Coverage Has Highlighted Local Opposition And Detailed Economic And Environmental Risks

The Charlotte Observer: BP Spill In Gulf Of Mexico Offers “Evidence Of What Can Go Wrong.” A Charlotte Observer article noted that North Carolina “rejected [offshore] oil and gas exploration a quarter-century ago” when the state determined that it could “harm the environment,” and BP's enormous spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 provides “fresh evidence of what can go wrong.” The Observer further reported that towns on North Carolina's Outer Banks oppose offshore drilling because it would threaten the region's billion dollar tourism industry, and quoted Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center pointing out that if offshore drilling is allowed, “chronically polluting facilities” would need to be built in coastal communities to store and process the oil:

Environmental advocates now have fresh evidence of what can go wrong: BP's massive 2010 oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Even when BP had its spill, we received some cancellations and more than a few concerned phone calls,” said Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “That's 2,000 miles away, so can you imagine the impact any kind of spill here would have on us?”

Dare County, which covers 100 miles of the Banks, generates nearly $1 billion a year in tourist spending and 1 in 3 jobs. Towns on North Carolina's tourism-dependent Outer Banks have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

The Atlantic lease would limit drill rigs to no closer than 50 miles from the coast, making them invisible from shore. But oil or gas that's piped ashore will need infrastructure to store or process it.

“That's the part of this that no one ever wants to talk about much,” said Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Which communities will have the pipelines, the transportation facilities, potentially the refineries and all the chronically polluting facilities that go with that? Go to Galveston and the Louisiana coast and and [sic] see what that looks like.” [The Charlotte Observer, 1/27/15]

Daily Press: Military, NASA Officials Say Offshore Drilling In Virginia Would Impede Military Training Exercises, Aerospace Activities. The Virginia-based Daily Press reported that Sierra Club Virginia and two former military officials urged the Obama administration to “remove Virginia from its draft plan for offshore oil and gas development, citing potential risks to military readiness, the aerospace industry and future offshore wind energy.” The article reported that former Naval commander Joe Bouchard “said the U.S. Navy and [Department of Defense] have been opposed to drilling in the Navy's Virginia Capes Operating Area since at least 2006,” and that Bouchard said that oil rigs would “impede the DoD's ability to conduct exercises and training” and potentially impact national security. The Daily Press also noted that "[m]uch of the proposed lease sale area also falls within parts of the Atlantic that NASA designates a 'high impact' area for rocket launches from its Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore," and that NASA says oil rigs or any other structure within this area would have “significant detrimental effects” on its aerospace activities. Finally, the article quoted Sierra Club Virginia assistant director Eileen Levandsoki pointing out that “there is a limited area off Virginia's coast for any energy development, including offshore wind,” and that allowing offshore oil drilling could preclude offshore wind development in the region. [Daily Press, 1/26/15]

The Sun News: More Than 20 Coastal South Carolina Towns Have Passed Resolutions Opposing Offshore Drilling. Myrtle Beach, SC-based newspaper The Sun News reported that on October 19 the city council of Briarcliffe Acres unanimously passed a resolution against seismic testing and drilling for oil and natural gas off of South Carolina's coast, making it the 24th coastal town in the state to take a stand against offshore drilling. Councilman Huston Huffman told The Sun News, “We understand what damage can ensue from any spill that could happen out there. ... We don't want to take the risk of a spill out there polluting the beaches.” The article added:

Opponents say offshore drilling would hurt marine life, pumping into the Atlantic the potential of spills and sound waves that would send sea creatures scurrying. And the risk to the state's high dollar tourism industry makes the idea demand a price too high to pay. [The Sun News, 10/20/15]

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Water Coalition Lists Offshore Drilling As One Of “Worst Offenses” To State's Water. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Georgia Water Coalition, which includes 228 conservation and environmental organizations, had listed offshore drilling along Georgia's coast as one of “the worst offenses to Georgia's waters” in its annual “Dirty Dozen” list. The Georgia Water Coalition fact sheet stated, in part: “When BP's Deepwater Horizon well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it spread oil over a thousand miles of the Gulf Coast shoreline. Were a similar disaster to occur on the Atlantic coast, communities from Boston to Brunswick could be impacted. Yet despite this threat, and despite the U.S. having an ongoing surplus of oil, the federal government earlier this year announced plans to open the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Georgia to offshore oil exploration, a prize the oil industry has coveted for decades.” [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/4/15; Georgia Water Coalition, accessed 11/20/15]

News & Observer Editorial: Offshore Drilling Plan Would “Threaten The NC Coast,” Risk Losing Revenue From Tourism, Fishing And Real Estate Development. An editorial in the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper, The News & Observer, stated that "[t]here should be a strong legal and political push" to stop the offshore drilling plan, which “puts North Carolina's tourism and other industries at risk.” The editorial explained: "[T]he hunt for oil off the coast ... will put at risk sources of revenue that are already here, tourism, fishing and coastal real estate development. It's better to protect what the state has than risk it for the uncertain prospect of more jobs and revenue." The editorial concluded that given the 2010 BP spill and “the reality of global warming,” the U.S. “should be building to an energy future based on renewable sources without environmental hazards.” [The News & Observer, 2/1/15]

Post & Courier Editorial: “Every Major Coastal South Carolina Municipality” Opposes Offshore Drilling, Risks Are “Simply Too Grave. The editorial board of Charleston, South Carolina newspaper The Post & Courier noted that "[t]he strength of public opposition to oil drilling off the South Carolina coast is nothing short of overwhelming. Every major coastal South Carolina municipality now officially opposes drilling in Atlantic waters, along with conservation groups, mayors and other elected officials." The board determined that the risks of offshore drilling are “simply too grave” given the South Carolina coastal region's heavy reliance on tourism, recreation, and fishing:

And in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley reaffirmed her support for offshore energy in a statement released this week calling it “critical to our future.” She claimed offshore oil would bring jobs, energy independence and security to the state. Sen. Tim Scott has also vocally supported the plan.

Yet contrary to Mrs. Haley's statement, the future of the South Carolina coast depends not on offshore oil but rather on the tourism, recreation and fishing industries that drive the Lowcountry economy and boost our quality of life.

If this ill-advised plan is “critical,” it is so only to companies that do seismic exploration, drilling and extraction.

Periodic disasters -- including a spill this summer in Santa Barbara, Calif. -- confirm that oil drilling remains a risky business despite considerable technological advances implemented in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout.

In a region where beaches and coastal waters generate billions of dollars in economic impact each year, those risks are simply too grave. [The Post & Courier, 9/17/15]

Virginian-Pilot Editorial: Trading Existing Military And Tourism Jobs For Oil Industry's Unsubstantiated Promise Of Jobs “Simply Makes No Sense.” A May 17 editorial in The Virginian-Pilot noted that in addition to the risks offshore drilling presents to the environment and the state's tourism industry, the U.S. Navy has repeatedly stated that “offshore rigs imperil its training off Virginia's coast, training that underlies much of the military's presence in Hampton Roads.” The editorial added that any possible “benefits [of drilling] cannot make up for the damage to the tourism industry, or to the environment, if something goes horribly wrong, as happened in 1989 with the Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound and in 2010 with BP's rig in the Gulf.” It concluded that while the oil industry is promising that offshore drilling will create thousands of jobs, their figures are “unconfirmed,” and regardless, "[t]rading so many jobs predicted by the industry itself for so many existing jobs dependent on the military and tourism simply makes no sense." [The Virginian-Pilot, 5/17/15]