By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
On March 15, 2016 the Obama administration reversed its decision to end a 30 year ban on drilling for oil off the southeastern Atlantic coast. A draft proposal released by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management in January 2015 included a plan for a five-year lease starting in 2017 and beginning 50 miles off the coast from Virginia to Georgia.
A chorus of disapproval from coastal community leaders, led by Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, appears to have overridden a push by state leaders, including Gov. Nikki Haley, to open the Atlantic to offshore drilling and the use of seismic airguns to explore for oil and natural gas. According to a report in the New York Times, over 106 coastal cities and towns signed resolutions asking President Obama to shut down plans for new drilling. Additionally, the Department of the Interior received more than a million comments on the draft proposal.
“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement on March 15. However, the new proposal, released the same day, still includes plans for oil drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.
A report by Bloomberg cites market and environmental concerns for the reversal, saying the decision was also based on conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed her support for the reversal, sending this message on Twitter: “Relieved Atlantic drilling is now off the table. Time to do the next right thing and protect the Arctic, too.”
“This decision is a testament to the fact that local voices still matter on national issues,” Hamilton Davis, Energy and Climate Director for the Coastal Conservation League, said.
“The coastal communities in South Carolina that would have been most impacted by offshore drilling stood up to Big Oil and won. What a victory for our environment, our economy, and the future of our coast.”