State officials and environmentalists from New Jersey to Florida spoke out in opposition to President Obama’s recent decision to allow oil drilling on the east coast.
"I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of drilling off the coast of New Jersey,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “Our coast is one of our economic engines, and I would have to be really convinced of both the economic viability of having to do it and the environmental safety. And at this point, I’m not convinced of either.”
Environmentalists called President Barack Obama's decision to open portions of the East Coast to oil and gas exploration a “wholesale assault” on the oceans, while some coastal residents and lawmakers applauded the idea of cheap energy and jobs that oil platforms off their beaches could bring.
Environmental groups from Maryland to Florida said Wednesday's decision would exact a high environmental cost while slaking only a sip's worth of the nation's huge thirst for energy.
“We're appalled that the president is unleashing a wholesale assault on the oceans,” said Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana, an environmental group. “Expanding offshore drilling is the wrong move if the Obama administration is serious about improving energy security, creating lasting jobs and averting climate change.”
Obama's plan modifies a moratorium that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. It allows new oil drilling off Virginia's shoreline and considers it for a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard.
Shrimpers welcomed the idea of filling up their tanks for less and pointed out that oil rigs haven't harmed their industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Many in the tourism industry were less enthused, worrying vacationers would shun their area if there were ever a spill.
Reaction among the region's political leaders was mixed. Some said it would help ease the nation's reliance on foreign reserves.
“The president's decision to allow energy exploration off Virginia's coast will mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact for the commonwealth,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell in Virginia, which is first in line to begin drilling that wouldn't begin for at least five years.
To the north, the idea of expanded drilling was denounced by U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrats. The governors of the Carolinas also said they have reservations.
“Offshore drilling brings with it great concerns--from the potential of oil spills to the protection of our defense facilities located along the coast _ for our national security. The coastal states that are on the front lines need to have to a say when it comes to decisions that have an impact far beyond one state's coastline,” Mikulski said.
Many residents along the East Coast were ambivalent, even some who live in fishing villages or near beaches.
“If they found it, and it went to help the United States, the people of the United States, I'd be for it,'' said Tom Bell, 66, who lives in South Bowers, Del., a small fishing village on the shore of the Delaware Bay.
In Savannah, Ga., shrimp boat captain Hank Groover said he'd be grateful if more domestic drilling would lower fuel prices.
“They've been doing it in the Gulf of Mexico for years without any major catastrophes,” Groover, 55, said. “There's hundreds of oil wells and a huge number of shrimp boats working down there, and they haven't had any problems.”
Lower prices might not be the result, analysts said.
“Consumers aren't going to see any direct impact from this,” said Michael A. Levi, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is a small amount of oil relative to global markets.”
Guy Caruso, former administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said models the agency ran during his tenure in the 2000s showed offshore drilling would have little effect on price, especially soon.
“And in the long term, it will be pretty moderate, because development comes on very slowly. It's not a sudden large new source of oil or gas,'' said Caruso, now an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Even Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the amounts of oil and gas available through offshore drilling are still minor compared to what the U.S. imports.
“This is not the panacea and it's not the answer to the energy issues that we face in this country,” he said on a conference call.
Environmental groups said marine life would be harmed by drilling, and even seismic testing could harm the endangered right whale, which migrates from northern waters to birth in waters off Georgia.
“It's not just the risk of a catastrophic spill,” said Marirose Pratt of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Onshore refineries would have to be built and would require destroying coastal wetlands.”
From the New Jersey shore to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Atlantic coast beaches are a destination for many Northeast visitors. The vision of oil platforms, even beyond the horizon, did not sit well with tourism officials.