A Victorious Year Against Offshore Drilling along East Coast – Thanks to a Grassroots Movement
Last week, the Obama administration formally denied all pending seismic airgun blasting permits in the Atlantic, favoring local voices over oil interests in a move that goes against the grain of our historically fossil fuel dependent society and solidifies the path to a cleaner, more sustainable renewable energy future.
Although in recent months groups have been making headway, the fight against offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic certainly started as a seemingly losing battle. In 2008, the Bush administration lifted a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling in the Atlantic. Done quietly, most East Coast communities had no idea their waters were open to the prospect of offshore drilling, and up until 2014, the only people privy to proposed drilling plans were those who supported it. Virtually unopposed, the government proceeded with plans to open up the Atlantic to offshore drilling – plans that surely would have gone smoothly, except for one little hitch: people like you.
In 2014, Oceana planted the seeds of a grassroots movement that would eventually sweep across the East Coast. It all started in the tiny town of Kure Beach, North Carolina when townspeople caught wind that their Mayor had penned a letter to the federal government in support of seismic airgun blasting, behind their backs. Seismic airgun blasting is a highly controversial technique that uses loud blasts of compressed air to search for oil and natural gas deposits deep below the ocean floor, and it’s the first step in the process of offshore drilling. Following their mayor’s backhanded action, more than 300 enraged citizens showed up at the next Kure Beach town meeting to defend their beloved coast and voice their opposition to seismic blasting.
Since its spark nearly three years ago, this kind of community reaction to offshore drilling activities has been repeated time and time again in coastal towns from Cape Canaveral, Florida to Cape May, New Jersey. With Oceana’s helping hand, local pushback to drilling and exploration has flourished into a groundswell of opposition that currently includes over 120 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing over 35,00 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families.
This was one of the fastest growing grassroots movements in recent history. Momentum grew as more and more people began to understand the risks and far-reaching consequences of offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting. These consequences know no physical or ideological boundaries – oil doesn’t wash up on beaches based on political preference. Fishers and conservationists as well as business owners and beach goers all face the same repercussions from oil development in their waters, and the wall of opposition to drilling in the Atlantic stands so strong and formidable in large part because of this diversity.
Oceana helped develop and lead this diverse group of stakeholders, communities, and elected officials into one collective voice. We presented the administration and members of congress on both sides of the isle with the hard facts and numbers. We demonstrated how oil exploration could crush our fishing and tourism interests in one fell swoop. We explained how these coastal communities and their very livelihoods are inextricably tied to clean beach environments and healthy ocean ecosystems. And years after these concerns were first voiced at a town meeting in Kure Beach – the federal government finally listened.
In March, 2016, we saw democracy in action. The mass of opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic swayed President Obama at last. In a historic move he protected the Atlantic from drilling for the next five years. This was a bold step in the right direction, for a time halting America’s fossil fuel expansion, but it wasn’t enough. Risky exploration activities still loomed on the horizon.
We kept the pressure on against seismic airgun blasting by garnering even more opposition across the board in East Coast states. The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast formed to oppose seismic airgun blasting and offshore oil drilling and to promote responsible stewardship of coastal and ocean waters. These business owners wanted to protect the 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion that marine resources in a healthy Atlantic Ocean generate each year. The addition of these voices to the ranks of opposition paid off.
During his last month in office, President Obama maintained his visionary leadership. Coastal communities along the East Coast can enter 2017 knowing the Atlantic is currently protected from all offshore oil activities. We thank the Obama administration for supporting coastal voices and showing Americans what a responsive government looks like. We applaud the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, under Director Abby Hopper’s leadership, for respecting the concerns of the people who would be affected most by offshore drilling and exploration.
This uphill battle has yielded several historic wins – Obama removed the Atlantic and Arctic out of his 2017-2022 oil and gas leasing program and permanently protected important areas of the Atlantic and Arctic from future offshore drilling . And now, this most recent denial of seismic airgun blasting permits has further strengthened a transition towards a more sustainable energy future. It’s a future we will uphold and defend with vigilance during the next administration. We’ve fought before, and we won’t hesitate to do it again.
We have pushed the limits of what was thought impossible and learned that when we stand up, and when we fight, we win.
Claire Douglass is the Campaign Director for Climate and Energy focused on stopping the expansion of offshore drilling and seismic airgun exploration. She and her team also continue to promote clean energy solutions including offshore wind energy.
Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation are proud to have supported Oceana’s efforts to stop offshore drilling and seismic testing in the Atlantic – and congratulate them on these major victories for coastal communities and our ocean.