Many Shore-area fishermen and lawmakers oppose the Obama administration’s controversial new proposal to open an area off the Atlantic Coast to oil and gas drilling.
The areas being mulled are located more than 50 miles off the coast of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, which they said is too close to the swift Gulf Stream current.
“If there is any kind of spill it’ll carry it up here. We’re against it,” said Roy Diehl, director of the Belford Seafood Cooperative and member of the Garden State Seafood Association’s board of directors.
A worse-case scenario — an Atlantic Coast oil spill akin to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — would threaten their billion-dollar commercial fishing industry, said Jim Lovgren, an association board member.
“That could put us out of business for some time,” said Lovgren, who also runs the Point Pleasant Fishermen’s Cooperative. “The (Virginia) location is habitat for summer flounder, scup and sea bass, all important fish to us.”
The three fish migrate inshore and offshore seasonally over a wide range on the Atlantic Coast, he said. He also fears a spill could harm huge scallop beds located in the Elephant Trunk, a rich fishing ground southeast of Cape May utlized by fishermen here.
Obama said in early 2010 he wants to allow drilling 50 miles off the Virginia coast. He scrapped the idea after the Deepwater Horizon spill, but the administration has allowed oil and gas companies to explore for oil and gas in the Atlantic; that is the initial step prior to drilling.
Some New Jersey lawmakers would prefer that the administration bar drilling.
Menendez said the consequences of an oil spill would be “catastrophic” here. The state’s tourism industry generates $38 billion a year and directly supports 312,000 jobs; the seafood industry supports 43,000 jobs.
The state’s fishing industry, including commercial and recreational sectors, brought in over $2.5 billion in 2011, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Bob Hilton, executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his members are not knocking down his door at the moment over the proposal.
He currently stands somewhere in the middle, understanding that lower fuel prices enable people to travel more.
“Our ocean is our livelihood. Of course we don’t want to see anything happen that would be detrimental to our waters and marine life,” said Hilton. “Anything, though, that could keep energy costs down should be considered.”
The draft proposal for 2017 through 2022 includes 14 potential lease sales — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska, along with the one proposed on the Atlantic Coast.
The administration has blocked oil and gas leases in other areas off the Alaskan coast that are considered environmentally sensitive. Areas off the Pacific coast were not included in the draft proposal.
“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.
For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place until 2008. Jewell said the earliest an Atlantic lease sale could happen, if at all, would be 2021.
Opponents have also said offshore drilling has not gotten safer in the years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Congress has not passed legislation to deal with safety lapses identified in that spill, the worst one in U.S. history.
“I’m very fearful of anything offshore after that spill. The industry proved they can’t cap a deep water spill and the government can’t help us. I’m anti-offshore drilling,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a national-grass roots political group representing the recreational fishing industry.
Environmentalists also attacked the proposal.
“Any spills off Virginia or south will ride the Gulf Stream up the coast, fouling our shores. The plan is riding big oil’s coat-tails toward ocean ruination,” said Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action director.
Interior officials stressed that the draft proposal, informed by more than 500,000 comments from stakeholders and states, is an early step in a multi-year process to develop a final offshore leasing program. The public will have many more opportunities for input, they said.
This article was written by Dan Radel and Nicole Gaudiano, Usa Today from Asbury Park Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.