By Chris Rotolo |
A recent off-shore drilling plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, could open up a vast percentage of the United States’ coastal waters for prospecting, a potential plan that has local environmental agencies predicting a grim future for the Jersey Shore’s beachfront communities.
“The ocean gives our community so much throughout the year. It’s more than just beautiful seascapes and visiting marine life in the summertime,” said Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “The ocean is also our economic engine. And when oil deposits and dead and dying animals are washing up on the beach, it’s going to be too late.”
Announced on Thursday, Jan. 4, the Trump administration’s proposal drew fierce opposition on both sides of the aisle, from New Jersey’s representatives in Congress to its state government leaders, including Democratic Governor-elect Phil Murphy.
“This is a huge giveaway to big oil and gas companies,” Governor-elect Murphy said in a media release. “It runs counter to our values and it endangers our most precious natural resource.
“What we need to do is support our Shore and the millions of people who love our beaches,” Murphy said. “We need to support the billions of dollars in economic activity, the tens of thousands of jobs and the thousands of businesses that rely upon a safe and clean shoreline.”
Murphy’s nod to the Jersey Shore’s massive warm-weather tourism economy – as well as its commercial and recreational fishing industries – and the potentially negative effects offshore drilling can have on it, is certainly a possible byproduct of the plan, and an aspect of the proposal that has American Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham calling for coastal communities to take action.
“This is truly a radical plan that proposes opening areas for drilling that have never been touched before, and it’s setting up the Jersey Shore to be vulnerable to oil spills,” Dillingham said to The Two River Times. “The oil industry has a terrible record in the United States,” he said. “If communities don’t come together and oppose this plan, then it has a real chance of coming to fruition and endangering our way of life.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, Zinke took to Twitter, where he stood in agreement with Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his position that the state is “unique and its coasts are reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” As a result, the Secretary of the Interior revealed he would be “removing Florida from consideration from any new oil and gas platforms.”
Republican Gov. Chris Christie stated on Wednesday, Jan. 10 that he would also be seeking an exemption for New Jersey’s coastal waters, as the Garden State possesses a similar economic standing, a point addressed by U.S Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Zipf.
“The Trump administration is correct in concluding that offshore drilling could have a devastating impact on Florida’s tourism industry and coastal economy. Yet, it inexplicably fails to see the same risks for numerous other states with thriving coastal economies, including New Jersey,” Pallone said in a media release. “Like Florida, New Jersey can simply not afford a spill off its coast or anywhere in the Atlantic.”
“Tourism at the Jersey Shore is a $42-billion-a-year industry, and that’s not taking into account our fishing industry,” Zipf said in an interview with The Two River Times. “And what are we risking it all for? Oil they dredge out will last for five year,” she said. “Fossil fuel is a dead and dying energy. We need to be investing in green energy, not putting our economic engine in jeopardy.”
The proposal to open more than a billion acres of offshore land in the Arctic, as well as along the West Coast and eastern seaboard, would lift a drilling ban set in place by former President Barack Obama, and grant access to some coastal waters for the first time in decades.
President Trump said the ban “deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth,” while this new plan is to act as a component of America’s path toward energy independence and dominance, though the point has been contested by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
“We can and must assert our energy independence in ways that do not compromise our coastal waters and beaches and put other industries at risk,” Smith said. “Opening the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration poses serious risks.”
New Jersey senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) are also in agreement that the nation’s potential economic growth does not outweigh the possible damages that could occur, a notion endorsed by Dillingham.
“Technology is more advanced than it ever has been,” Dillingham said. “Oil companies are drilling in places we never thought possible, and because of the technology it’s become profitable. But people need to go back and take a look at pictures from the Deepwater Horizon spill and how it’s destroyed coastal communities and industry. This is a very real possibility of what could happen here.”
The proposal would allow the Department of the Interior to free 25 of the 26 regions of the outer continental shelf and in turn hold 47 lease sales to oil development companies from 2019 to 2024, including seven regions off the coast of California, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and 19 in Alaskan waters.
The process of approving this proposal is one that could take up to 18 months, with challenges from Congress and the courts likely.
This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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