By Jay Cook |
TRENTON – On Feb. 14 the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold a public meeting regarding plans for offshore oil and gas exploration.
But a week before environmental groups converge on the state capital in opposition to the plan from President Donald Trump’s administration, they took to the Asbury Park boardwalk on Wednesday afternoon to double down on their position that offshore drilling would damage New Jersey’s most attractive attribute.
“This is a radical plan which threatens our ocean, its wildlife, our communities and their clean water-based economies,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. “This is not the future the public wants for our ocean and coast.”
In the first week of 2018, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced plans to proceed with the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, covering a five-year span from 2019 through 2024, essentially overriding Atlantic drilling restrictions set by the Obama administration in the current five-year plan that began in 2017.
The American Littoral Society is just one of the many Two River environmental groups rallying members to travel to the Hilton Garden Inn in Hamilton for the Feb. 14 meeting to combat the federal government’s plans. It is scheduled to be held from 3 to 7 p.m. at the hotel.
But during the meeting, public comment will not be submitted as on-the-record testimony in favor of, or in opposition to, the plan. In response, a citizen hearing will be held concurrently in an adjacent room at the Hilton Garden Inn, Clean Ocean Action announced on Wednesday.
The event will open with a press conference held by New Jersey’s Anti-Offshore Oil Coalition at 2:30 p.m., followed by the citizen hearing. An official legal transcriber will be there to record the testimony and later provide it to the federal government.
“The idea that federal agencies would host a poster session like a science fair and hide from public accountability by not providing a public hearing is an insult and is unacceptable,” said Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action’s executive director.
According to the federal draft document detailing the offshore drilling program, “The potential oil and gas resources that may be made available as a result of this (draft proposed program) are fundamental to America’s energy security in the coming decades.”
Federal officials hope to issue nine leases for Atlantic Ocean territory, seven off the Pacific coast, 19 off Alaska, and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico.
BOEM officials point out that inclusion of each proposed tract will depend on public and stakeholder feedback and scientific analysis of potential effects, adding that the goal is to support a national energy plan that keeps America globally competitive, keeps energy affordable in the U.S. and creates jobs.
Ninety percent of U.S waters will be opened as possible locations for offshore drilling and allowing rigs to come within three miles of the shoreline. Opponents to the plan say it would be a detriment to New Jersey’s $44.1 billion tourism industry.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced his intention to reinstate an offshore windmill program along New Jersey’s coastline, which he said could power 1.5 million homes by 2030. And many environmentalists believe that’s the direction New Jersey should be heading towards.
“We have a choice between oils rigs and windmills. We want wind,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We have been fighting drilling for 45 years. We have beaten them before and we will beat them again. No spills, kill the drill.”
The meetings began Jan. 16 and should continue through March 8. There will be 23 scheduled sessions, one in each U.S. state for which coastal oil and gas drilling has a potential bearing. Weather conditions forced postponements of gatherings scheduled during January in eight states.
For those who can’t attend meetings in their state, the BOEM maintains information on their website at boem.gov, offering an opportunity to view draft plans and leave comments.
How to Comment on Offshore Drilling Program
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is required to seek public comments for the Draft Proposed Program (DPP) and is also including scoping comments for the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Comments are due by March 9th, 2018. As of Wednesday evening, 34,013 comments have been received regarding the proposal since the public comment period opened on Jan. 8.
Comments to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke can be addressed in two different ways.
- Submit comment online via the Federal Register before March 9, 2018: regulations.gov/document?D=BOEM-2017-0074-0001
- Mail in an envelope for arrival by March 9th and label: Comments for the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed National Oil and Gas Program
Ms. Kelly Hammerle, Chief
National Oil and Gas Leasing Program Development and Coordination Branch Leasing Division
Office of Strategic Resources
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (VAM-LD)
45600 Woodland Road
Sterling, VA 20166-9216
Written comments may also be hand delivered at a public meeting to the BOEM official in charge or submitted online at BOEM’s Public Meetings via provided laptop
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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