Keystone foes take aim at Obama’s Atlantic oil-lease plan
Environmentalists emboldened by U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline are now trying to convince the administration to close a door it opened last year to allow oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.
Activists on Wednesday plan to deliver two million petitions to the White House opposing the proposed sale of drilling rights from Virginia to South Carolina. More than 100 cities and counties across the U.S. East Coast have passed resolutions opposing oil exploration off their coasts and environmentalists have enlisted at least 100 members of Congress.
The action comes as the Interior Department works on a plan to govern offshore oil lease sales from mid-2017 to mid-2022. An initial draft, published last January, pencilled in one sale of south Atlantic acreage, along with three auctions of oil leases near Alaska and 10 in the Gulf of Mexico. That draft foreclosed auctions of territory along the West Coast and in the north and mid-Atlantic, from Maryland to Maine.
“We are at a critical moment for the future of our coastal states,” Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said in an e-mailed statement. “Right now, the Department of Interior is considering an offshore drilling plan that will put our beaches, our fishermen and our environment on the East Coast in the crosshairs for an oil spill that could devastate our shores and our economies.”
When the Interior Department releases its proposal – the penultimate step before finalizing it later this year – conservationists and industry leaders expect the administration to further whittle down some of the Atlantic acreage that is up for grabs, likely shedding options in the south near the Carolinas, while leaving possible Arctic auctions on the table for now.
“They’ve signalled pretty clearly they’re going to shrink the Atlantic portion quite a bit,” Athan Manuel, director of Sierra Club’s Lands Protection program, said by phone. But that modest scale-back isn’t enough for coastal residents worried about oil spills befouling beaches and environmentalists pushing a “keep it in the ground” approach to fossil fuels.
“We want the certainty of having all those areas removed. We don’t want to leave it to the whims of the oil industry and what happens on the world market,” Mr. Manuel said. “These areas are special to us and should never have been put on the table in the first place.”
“All areas for potential oil and gas development are critical for our energy security; we should be moving forward with a policy that ensures we have reliable supplies of oil and gas for decades to come,” Erik Milito, a director with the American Petroleum Institute, said in a phone interview. The Atlantic “is important because this is all the administration has really left on the table for potential exploration in new areas.”
As proposed, that Atlantic auction would happen no sooner than 2021, with a 80.5-kilometre buffer zone separating the available acreage from the coast. But there are many steps to scheduling a sale – and including it in a five-year leasing plan only preserves it as an option, without guaranteeing the auction ever takes place.
While most U.S. waters are technically open for oil and gas development, the activity can only take place on leases sold under the government’s five-year plan. The legal process for assembling that drilling blueprint over two to three years is designed to start broad, with the number of potential sales and the available territory often scaled back as regulators move from an initial draft to a proposal and ultimately, the final program.
Interior Department officials are on track to finalize the 2017-2022 plan by the end of the year, putting the Obama administration’s framework in place as a new president moves into the White House.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail