The Obama administration has decided against opening the US Atlantic seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration, citing widespread opposition to drilling among coastal residents.
The Department of the Interior said drilling would have “significant potential conflicts” with other interests, such as commercial shipping and the military. But it approved new blocs for development in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska even as it cut off the Atlantic.
The news drew quick cheers from environmentalists, who had rallied against the possibility of oil exploration off Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia after it was first proposed in early 2015.
“It’s an incredible day for the Southeast,” said Sierra Weaver, head of the Coast and Wetlands Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s incredible for our air, for our water, and for all of these coastal communities who have stood up to oppose this proposal.”
Dan Lashof, the chief operating officer of renewable-energy advocate NextGen Climate America, said the administration “stood up for a brighter, stronger future powered by clean energy — not dangerous oil rigs off our nation’s precious coasts.” And Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the administration for “standing up to Big Oil and protecting our coastal communities that rightly fear a BP-style disaster.”
Supporters had argued that drilling could provide about 280,000 jobs and inject nearly $200 billion into the economies of the four states — and Tuesday’s announcement drew a swift and scathing response from the American Petroleum Institute, the leading oil industry trade association.
“The decision appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production which would increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door for years to creating new jobs, new investments, and boosting energy security,” API President Jack Gerard said in a written statement. “This is not how you harness America’s economic and diplomatic potential.”
The decision flies in the face of support from state leaders and much of the public “and has left the future of American energy and national security vulnerable for the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead,” Gerard said.
But more than 100 local governments along the coast had passed resolutions opposing drilling off their shores. And Hamilton Davis, the energy program director for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, said opponents were “ecstatic” as the word spread around Charleston.
“We think it’s the right decision, and it’s a testament to the grassroots, local opposition actually being able to influence these national decisions,” Davis said. “I think a lot of people have lost faith in the system as it exists, but at least in this instance, it proved to be effective.”
Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl