WASHINGTON – As the Obama administration prepares to open the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades, the coast is in rebellion.
Governments in more than 70 cities and counties in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida have passed resolutions opposing oil exploration or drilling off their coasts, pushing the president to reverse course and keep drilling rigs from the Eastern Seaboard.
The latest protest against Obama’s plan came from the seaside town of Swansboro, N.C., which passed a resolution last week opposing offshore drilling. “The risks are very real,” said Frank Tursi, newly elected to the town’s board of commissioners.
Obama’s January announcement that he is proposing a drilling lease sale in the Atlantic has ignited a debate over energy, jobs and the environment, with governors of East Coast states eager for development but many coastal towns afraid of the potential effect on tourism and fishing.
Drilling opponents along the Atlantic feel emboldened by Obama’s decision last month to cancel drilling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. They see a potential opening as the president becomes more assertive on environmental issues as he prepares to leave office after next year’s election.
“For the life of me I just can’t understand why this is even an issue. Tourism generates so much money to the state, it’s basically the lifeblood of eastern North Carolina,” said Matt Price, a real estate developer in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. “I doubt people want to come to a place where oil washed up on the beaches or there’s dead sea life from seismic testing.”
Coastal drilling opponents are fighting an uphill battle, though — against their own governors and senators who support offshore drilling. Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is pressing for the state to get a share of the federal money from offshore energy production, telling Congress this year that there is “widespread support” in North Carolina for offshore drilling.
Obama has opened a huge area of the Atlantic, from Delaware to central Florida, for seismic exploration for oil and natural gas. Those tests, in which seismic cannons repeatedly blast as loud as a howitzer under the sea, could begin as soon as the spring once federal permits are issued. It’s not clear how much oil and gas there is off the Eastern Seaboard and the tests are meant to change that.
All major coastal cities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia are against the drilling plan. U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Tom Rice, Republicans who represent the South Carolina coast, also oppose Atlantic offshore drilling, as does Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. But all four U.S. senators from North and South Carolina support drilling, as does Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.