If at first you don’t succeed…form a coalition! Atlantic coast states have been pushing back against the idea of permitting offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, and now it looks like industry stakeholders are making a fresh run at the issue. The new push comes from a familiar face — the American Petroleum Institute — but it features an interesting new co-chair, so let’s take a closer look and see what’s going on.
More Offshore Drilling For The East Coast…Or Not
In a nutshell, API’s new “Explore Offshore” dangles the prospect of more than 25,000 high-paying jobs and $230 million in annual state revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling.
That’s some small potatoes when you spread it out among all 14 US states on the Atlantic coast (including New Hampshire, which just has a toehold). For now, though, the effort is focused on five states where support is relatively strong: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
API claims that the coalition consists of “more than 100 community organizations, associations, businesses and local leaders.”
That sounds pretty impressive, but there are some serious state-level forces arrayed against offshore drilling in all five states.
Take Georgia, for example. When the Trump Administration announced plans for offshore oil and gas drilling last January, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal was among the many coastal governors casting a stinkeye on the whole idea. Here’s the Associated Press with the rundown:
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s plan to allow offshore oil drilling along Georgia’s coast.
Local media outlets report that Deal said he would need to consider the effect on the state’s tourism industry before deciding whether or not to support the federal government’s plan.
Okay so that’s a little mild, but check out what State Senator Lester Jackson said in April (also support local journalism and follow the link for more detail):
…Legislators who are not familiar with our coast don’t understand the biggest economic driver in the state is tourism. Many flock to our beaches for tourism. And they don’t understand another large business is our fisheries. Anything that may jeopardize that industry may cripple the coast.”
…We will continue our crusade to protect our shore and our two largest industries. To say nothing of protecting the environment. We don’t want what happened to the coast of Louisiana, and in Alaska to ever happen to us.
Jackson was among several Georgia legislators pushing for a formal resolution opposing offshore drilling. The measure failed but he and his supporters have vowed to fight on.
You Plans? We Got Plans, Too!
Speaking of Georgia, tourism is the fifth-largest employer and a $60.8 billion industry in the state, with $3.1 billion in annual revenue.
The offshore drilling plan comes at an especially bad time for the state. Georgia is positioning itself as a global tourism destination. Earlier this year, it unveiled its new 2018 travel guide with plans to distribute 700,000 free copies.
Here’s Deal pitching the new guide with a shoutout to the state’s tourism industry:
…the industry provides job opportunities for more than 450,200 Georgians, accounting for approximately 10.6 percent of the state’s non-farm workforce.
As this industry continues to grow, this success reflects our state’s status as a world-class tourism destination and once again affirms that Georgia is on the minds of travelers around the globe.
All The Good News About Offshore Drilling
Georgia’s new guide encourages tourists to “enjoy authentic Georgia experiences,” which could include an excursion to an offshore drilling platform if API’s campaign succeeds.
The Explore Offshore campaign has a chairman for each of the five targeted states. Georgia Chairman (and Georgia Petroleum Council Director) Hunter Hopkins promises that “many of our communities across Georgia could reap the benefits from offshore energy development as it would generate new state revenues for public schools and infrastructure.”
Explore Offshore also promises that “the oil and natural gas industry could create over 4,000 new high-paying jobs in Georgia” by 2035, and that “offshore development could result in $270 million a year in private investment into Georgia.”
At risk though, is the $2.4 billion in economic activity related to coastal tourism, along with more than 20,000 jobs (including part time and seasonal).
Meanwhile, the Savannah Morning News (here’s that link again) notes that coastal leaders are not convinced. In addition to opposition from environmental advocates, there’s this:
Local governments including Tybee Island and Savannah have passed resolutions opposing drilling and the seismic testing required to explore for oil and gas. Atlanta passed one in February. Richmond Hill passed its version just last month at the urging of The Dolphin Project, among other backers.
Some Bipartisans Are Better Than Others
API is touting its bipartisan cred by tapping former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat, to co-chair Explore Offshore on a national level.
If you caught that thing about “former,” you’re on to something. Bipartisan means one thing in the private sector and another thing in elected office, namely, you get a vote.
The voting kind of bipartisan effort is taking shape in the US House of Representatives, where the Virginia Daily Press reports this happened just yesterday:
McEachin [Rep. A. Donald McEachin], a Democrat from Henrico County, introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday along with Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican, that would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to forbid issuing federal lease-sales “for the exploration, development or production of oil or gas on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Mid-Atlantic planning area.”
So far the bill includes Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware, so stay tuned to see if representatives from Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida decide to tag along.
The biggest problem for API is that there is another significant offshore, job-creating energy alternative today, that being offshore wind farms.
Despite the Trump Administration’s pro-coal rhetoric, the Department of Energy has been pitching wind farms for the Atlantic coast states like gangbusters.
The nation’s first offshore wind farm has become a new tourist attraction for its home state of Rhode Island, so aside from the clean power and spill-free operation, there’s another benefit.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Rep. McEachin’s office for the bipartisan perspective on wind farms vs. drilling platforms, and we’re also interested to see how Mr. Webb reconciles his Navy experience with the Department of the Navy stand on climate change so stay tuned for that.
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Photo: St. Simon’s Beach, Georgia by Ralph Daily/flickr.com, creative commons license.
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