Obama administration withdraws East Coast from new offshore drilling plan

Posted at 11:34 AM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-15 17:35:51-04

The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management made an announcement Tuesday that ends President Obama's previous plan to allow gas and oil drilling off the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced a five-year plan that evaluates 10 potential lease sales for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential l

Proposed offshore drilling -- Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Proposed offshore drilling -- Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

ease sales off the coast of Alaska.

No lease sales were scheduled in the Mid- and South Atlantic due to "current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses."

President Obama’s plan would have opened much of the southeastern Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for the first time.

Governors, state legislators and senators from Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia all expressed support for the drilling.

However, the proposal provoked a backlash from coastal communities, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the Outer Banks.

Over 100 coastal cities and towns along the East Coast, along with more than 80 East Coast state legislators and about 1,000 coastal businesses signed letters to President Obama opposing the drilling.

Joe DaBiero is the President of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association. He called Tuesday's decision a win for his group.

"We’ve been opposed to offshore drilling since the conception. We believe our natural resources off the coast are valuable and we want to protect them," he told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo Tuesday.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell tweeted on Tuesday that the next plan "protects the Atlantic for future generations."

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” added Jewell. “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.”

Virginia Senators Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Lt. Governor Ralph Northam released statements on the decision.

Mark Warner:

“We’ve all been awaiting this decision from the Department of the Interior. I take seriously the concerns the Department of Defense and NASA have raised about the potential impacts of energy exploration and development along the Atlantic coast. I also believe we have to take into account the challenge of securing a fair revenue-sharing agreement for Virginia, and the changed economics surrounding oil and gas development. I look forward to getting a full briefing from the Navy and NASA Wallops about the nature of their concerns.”

Tim Kaine:

“I have long believed that the moratorium on offshore drilling, based on a cost-benefit calculation performed decades ago, should be re-examined. Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management suggests that they have grappled with this question and concluded that the risks of such production outweigh potential gains. I am particularly struck by the material objections of the Department of Defense to the incompatibility of drilling with naval operations off Virginia’s coast, cited by the BOEM as one of the three principal reasons for their decision. I have participated in this debate for over a decade as a Governor and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The DOD has been relatively quiet during this public debate and has never shared their objections with me before. I look forward to additional discussions with DOD to understand its position.”

Congressman Bobby Scott:

“I applaud the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for carefully considering whether or not to allow oil and gas development off the southern Atlantic Coast.  This revised proposal for the nation’s oil and gas leasing program appropriately responded to input from local leaders, businesses, the Department of Defense, environmental stakeholders, and many others. 

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is fortunate to have many unique natural resources and, thankfully, this updated proposal will ensure that our coastline is protected for future generations.  As we move ahead from this decision, I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to continue to strengthen our economy and move our nation toward a cleaner energy future.  I know Hampton Roads and our Commonwealth will play a critical role in those efforts.”      

Lt. Governor Ralph Northam:

“I want to thank the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and President Obama's administration for hearing concerns about offshore drilling from leaders here in Virginia.

Over the years, military officials, environmental activists and small business owners have warned of the potential impact of oil exploration off Virginia's coast. 40 percent of Hampton Roads’ economy is tied to defense-related activities. Tourism and aquaculture generate billions of dollars for the Commonwealth. We cannot afford to jeopardize these important industries that are all tied to the health of our coastal waters. 

Today’s announcement is a win for Virginians. I look forward to continuing to work with federal and state officials as well as community leaders to sustain a healthy and prosperous Virginia that brings good-paying jobs to our communities.”