The Obama Administration announced Tuesday it would not allow drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, an apparent reversal after previously voicing support for energy firms to search for oil and natural gas deposits off the South Carolina coast.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made a formal announcement Tuesday afternoon in a conference call. She outlined the department’s proposed program for oil and gas development on the nation’s outer continental shelf.
“We’ve heard from many corners that now is not the time to start leasing off the Atlantic coast. This includes many communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing, tourism and shipping activity,” Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. “When you factor in conflicts with commercial and national defense activities, market conditions and opposition from local communities it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with the Atlantic lease sale in the near future.”
The Interior Department had proposed last year opening up the Atlantic to businesses exploring for oil or gas. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has also given preliminary approval for energy companies to begin “seismic testing” in the south and mid-Atlantic. Even under that plan, drilling still would not have occurred before 2021.
However, there was a strong outcry from coastal communities and environmental groups. Every coastal city and town council in South Carolina that took up a resolution against drilling ended up voting in favor of it. Conservation groups like Oceana and the Coastal Conservation League also organized grassroots efforts against opening up the Atlantic.
With the public’s input in mind, the department decided remove the Atlantic leasing that was previously included in the 2015 draft.
The new plan also proposes 10 lease sales over a five-year period in the Gulf of Mexico, 3 potential lease sales in the Arctic, and no lease sales in the Pacific.
South Carolina’s congressional delegation was divided on the decision. US Rep. Jeff Duncan, whose Third District is located in the Upstate, had supported drilling, believing it would be an economic boon for the state. “I am disappointed, but not surprised, that this Administration would once again choose placating his political allies over helping the economic needs of the American people,” Duncan said in a statement released by his office. In a tweet posted later, Duncan added, “It’s downright shameful how radical groups used scare tactics to spread misleading & outright false information to coastal communities.”
But US Rep. Mark Sanford, whose First District includes much of South Carolina’s coast between Charleston and Savannah, praised the decision. “It’s a decision that speaks volumes to the importance of voicing one’s opinion and local input in the political process,” he said in a statement. “Residents along our coast should be proud of the way they united on this issue and sent a compelling message to Washington.”
“The program takes a balanced approach to oil and gas development focusing on potential lease sales in areas with highest resource potential, greatest industry interest and an established infrastructure while removing certain areas for consideration that we know are not appropriate for leasing,” Jewell said.
Now that the new proposal has been released, a 90-day public comment period is open before it is finalized.
Since the Interior Department typically handles leases in five-year increments, it is unlikely the federal agency would consider new leases along the Atlantic continental shelf again until at least 2020.
Kimberly Washington filed this report