Why We Should Not Drill Offshore the South Atlantic

Chris Carnevale | April 20, 2013 | Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling
Deepwater Horizon Fire
Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP

Today, April 20, marks the 3rd anniversary of the tragic Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster.  In spite of how apparent it seemed three years ago that offshore drilling is a bad idea whose time has gone, today we are facing the threat of even more drilling off our beautiful coasts.  As we’ve reported before, the federal government is considering opening the Atlantic coast to offshore oil and gas exploration for the first time in 30 years.  Yet the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon blowout have not been fully incorporated into industry practice or government regulation.  On this three year anniversary, we want to emphasize the reasons why it is a bad idea to drill off the Southeast Atlantic coast.

Oil and gas exploration is bad for our region.

The current proposal by the federal government to open the Atlantic to offshore oil and gas exploration includes the use of seismic airgun testing.  This type of testing involves creating large blasts of noise that help show where petroleum deposits are.  The noises are so loud, though, that they can damage hearing and navigation of marine mammals like whales and dolphins as well as other marine creatures.  According to the federal government, allowing this testing would result in the death or injury of up to 138,500 marine mammals by 2020 and disrupt migratory and mating habits of many creatures including sea turtles.  European studies have shown declines in catch rates for commercially important fish due to seismic airgun testing.


Exploration is just the beginning.  The end goal is drilling.  And the economics of drilling in the South Atlantic just don’t make sense.

Contrary to what some politicians would have us believe, jeopardizing our coast with offshore drilling would not bring down gasoline prices.  Studies under George W. Bush’s administration have shown that if we opened all feasible offshore U.S. areas to drilling, the gas price MIGHT decline by no more than 3 cents per gallon by 2030.  Since the U.S. supplies only 11 percent of the world’s oil supply, we don’t get to set the price.  It’s the international market that does that.  As for natural gas, the U.S. is awash in cheap onshore gas due to recent technological improvements.  Furthermore, more than 70 percent of the currently leased area for offshore drilling is sitting idle and unused.  So why would we want to harm our marine and coastal environment exploring for oil and gas that the market doesn’t call for, that won’t decrease fuel prices, and for which there are plenty of other places to go?

Oceana Table on Jobs at Risk from Offshore Oil & Gas
Courtesy Oceana.

As for local economic development due to oil and gas extraction, it likely won’t be that great.  Allow me to draw some examples from my home state of South Carolina to illustrate the point.  Previous surveys have concluded that the geologic conditions for large deposits of oil and natural gas do not exist off our coast and as a result, it has been pointed out by the SC Department of Commerce that “offshore natural gas drilling will likely not have a significant direct economic impact” and the SC Board of Economic Advisors has said that “there does not seem to be much incentive to drilling off South Carolina at current prices.”

To be sure, if the oil and gas industry were to develop in the Southeast, there would be some new jobs and economic development; but it must be recognized that these jobs would represent a direct threat to our bread-and-butter industries of tourism and fishing.  We know from experience that offshore drilling and tourism can be at great odds.  To drill offshore might jeopardize the estimated 80,000 coastal tourism jobs in South Carolina, which generate over $3.5 billion each year or the 350,000+ coastal tourism and fishing jobs in Florida that generate over $15 billion per year.  As we saw with the BP Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries.  Should we compromise our hundreds of thousands of tourism and fishing jobs for a mere few thousand drilling jobs?

What you can do

Sign the Petition on Sesmic TestingSign The Petition  As was mentioned earlier, the federal government is moving to allow offshore oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic coast.  This exploration is predicted to kill or injure up to 138,500 marine mammals.  The ocean advocacy organization, Oceana, has created a petition to President Obama that you can sign.

Hands Across the SandJoin Hands   In just one month, on May 18, communities all over the world will join hands at the their favorite beach or treasured place to say “NO” to offshore drilling and other dirty fossil fuels, and “YES” to clean energy.  This will be as part of Hands Across the Sand, a way for you and your community to symbolically protect your treasured places from the impacts of dirty fossil fuels.  Please consider participating in the events on that day.  If an event is not yet scheduled for your hometown area, please consider starting one yourself.  It’s not terribly difficult and is very rewarding.  As the saying goes… “If not us, who?  If not now, when?”

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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