In a move that actually goes against previous decisions, the Obama administration has abandoned plans to allow drilling for oil and gas off America’s Atlantic Coast. The turnaround has been in response to pressure not just from coastal communities, but also due to warnings from the Navy, and reaffirms Obama's commitment to increasing protection of the environment.
The ruling will prevent the fossil fuel industry from offshore drilling and exploration until 2022 along the Atlantic coastline of five states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The announcement fits in with other moves by the President to leave a solid environmental legacy in his wake, from blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, to ambitious plans to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants, to making areas of the Arctic off-limits from the oil industry.
“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” explained Sally Jewell, the Interior Secretary. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”
The announcement came as part of the Interior Department’s oil and gas leasing planning process for the next five years. In it, they looked at 13 potential sites in six areas, 10 of which are in the Gulf of Mexico, while three others are off the Alaskan coast. While preventing the development of drilling off the Atlantic coast, the operations will still be allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still deemed one of the most productive basins in the world. It is in part the result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred here in 2010 that has led to so much resistance in drilling from communities on the Atlantic coast.
While this is obviously good news for the states involved, the announcement also hints at the potential for drilling to still take place in three regions in the Arctic, despite steep opposition. “We know the Arctic is a unique place of critical importance to many – including Alaska Natives who rely on the ocean for subsistence,” continued Jewell. “As we put together the final proposal, we want to hear from the public to help determine whether these areas are appropriate for future leasing and how we can protect environmental, cultural and subsistence resources.”
The likelihood that companies will actually take up the opportunity to drill in the Arctic, even if allowed, is thought to be slim, however. This is due to the heavy costs involved in fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic at the moment combined with the current lull in oil prices, as demonstrated by the eventual pulling out of Shell from the region after spending an estimated $7 billion on a single well. With less than a year left in office, though, Obama is trying to lay the foundations of a more environmentally-minded nation.