Obama Reverses Course on Drilling Off Southeast Coast
By Coral Davenport
The New York Times
March 14, 2016
The decision to withdraw a plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, represents a reversal of President Obama’s previous offshore drilling plans, and comes as he is trying to build an ambitious environmental legacy.
The Obama administration is expected to withdraw its plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, yielding to an outpouring of opposition from coastal communities from Virginia to Georgia but dashing the hopes and expectations of many of those states’ top leaders.
The announcement by the Interior Department, which is seen as surprising, could come as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak on the record because the plan had not been publicly disclosed.
The decision represents a reversal of President Obama’s previous offshore drilling plans, and comes as he is trying to build an ambitious environmental legacy. It could also inject the issue into the 2016 presidential campaigns, as Republican candidates vow to expand drilling.
In January 2015, Mr. Obama drew the wrath of environmentalists and high praise from the oil industry and Southeastern governors after the Interior Department put forth a proposal that would have opened much of the southeastern Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for the first time.
The proposal came after governors, state legislators and senators from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all expressed support for the drilling. Lawmakers in the state capitals saw new drilling as creating jobs and bolstering state revenue.
But the offshore drilling proposal, which was still in draft form and was not to be finalized until later this year, provoked a backlash from coastal communities including Norfolk, Va., which supports the world’s largest naval base; Charleston, S.C.; and tiny tourist towns around Myrtle Beach, S.C., and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over 106 of those coastal cities and towns signed resolutions asking Mr. Obama to shut down plans for new drilling.
In addition, more than 80 East Coast state legislators and the owners of about 1,000 coastal businesses have signed letters to Mr. Obama opposing the drilling.
Both environmental groups and the oil industry have spent the last several months lobbying in town halls and statehouses throughout the Southeast.
Environmental groups and many coastal residents fear that opening the Atlantic to drilling could lead to a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and sent millions of gallons of oil to the shores of nearby coastal states.
“If this is true, it’s a great day for the Atlantic coast, our beaches and the coastal economy that depends on it,” said Rachel Richardson, program director for the drilling program at Environment America. “This moment has come because Atlantic coast communities, businesses and citizens have all spoken up to protect their beaches, treasured marine life and President Obama listened.”
The oil and gas industry saw the drilling as a potential bonanza for new oil supply and pledged that the exploration would be done safely, mindful of the lessons from the 2010 disaster.
“If the Atlantic is taken out, that means there’s less of an opportunity to invest in the U.S., and those dollars will flow overseas, and we’ll hear more and more of that in the presidential election,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.
The Interior Department estimates there are 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Energy industry experts say the reserves may be far greater.
A version of this article appears in print on March 15, 2016, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: In Reversal, U.S. Plan on Drilling to Be Pulled.