Today, the Obama administration proposed a sale to lease the waters off of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia for oil and gas development. The details of this proposal were released in the draft five-year program for the Outer Continental Shelf, which lays out what types of offshore oil and gas activities will be permitted in the next offshore planning period, from 2017 to 2022.
The proposed lease sale for the Mid- and South Atlantic is slated to take place in 2021, with drilling following thereafter.
It is especially unfortunate that the Obama administration is taking this step as we approach the 5th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy this spring, particularly while oil prices have plummeted and the cost of natural gas is at historic rock bottom.
If the lease sale goes as planned, a potential lessee’s next step is to drill an exploratory well to determine if the resource is large enough to economically extract. For those who say that we should at least allow exploration to see what’s out there, it must be noted that even the exploratory phase of offshore drilling is highly risky. The Deepwater Horizon blowout of 2010 occurred while drilling an exploratory well, which killed 11 workers and exposed tens of thousands of cleanup workers to hazardous chemicals for months; devastated seafood and tourist-driven businesses; coated beaches and wetlands with an oily slick; killed countless birds, fish, and marine mammals; cost tens of billions of dollars; and ultimately dumped 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean over the course of 87 days.
Yes, our nation’s greatest environmental disaster in history occurred while they were “just exploring to see what’s out there.”
But there are more parallels that should caution against Atlantic drilling. The type of hydrocarbon that is likely to have caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion is called methane hydrate, a particularly volatile and dangerous gas resource. Incidentally, this risky substance is what comprises perhaps the majority of the gas resource off of the South Atlantic coast. Bo Peterson at the Charleston Post & Courier wrote an article on this subject that is worth a read, highlighting the facts that methane hydrate is very risky and uneconomic in the South Atlantic, likening it to “chiseling into a vast propane tank.”
As for next steps with the five year program, the proposal is still a draft, and the overseeing agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is taking comments on the proposal through March 30. Comments should be submitted through the online Federal Register comment portal here. You can also attend a public hearing to show your opposition and share your comments. The hearing schedule and details are found here, including hearings in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 9,), Norfolk, VA (Feb. 11), Wilmington, NC (Feb. 17), Jacksonville, FL, (Feb. 19), Annapolis, MD (March 9), and Charleston, SC (March 11).
If you want to push back against this proposal and say “no” to offshore drilling and exploration, please sign up for the 6th annual Hands Across the Sand events that will take place along our coasts and in your communities on May 16. We will draw our line in the sand and stand up to Big Oil and say “yes” to clean, renewable energy.