Locals Raise Voices at Offshore Drilling Meeting in Trenton

Southern Ocean Groups Protest Trump Plan for NJ Coast Oil Exploration
Feb 21, 2018
Photo by: Kyle Gronostajski Local residents and organizations were among the hundreds of folks in Hamilton, New Jersey last week opposing new offshore drilling.

On Jan. 4, President Trump announced a plan to open previously off-limit areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans to offshore drilling, a total of 90 percent of U.S. waters, including off New Jersey and Long Beach Island. It’s an issue that strikes very close to home for our coastal residents.

Before oil and gas leases can be sold, there is a period for public comment. As part of the process, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the office tasked with managing development of energy off the continental shelf, must initiate an impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. Starting in January and running until March, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is holding open-house meetings around the nation where the public can engage the government organization about the plan. New Jersey’s first such meeting was held in Hamiiton on Feb. 14 and attended by a good number of Southern Ocean County locals.

The objective of these meetings is for the public to ask questions, share information, talk with BOEM team members and learn more about the National Outer Continental Shelf Program. The meeting in Hamilton’s Hilton Garden was a room full of presentations and charts explaining everything from the U.S.’s need for offshore fossil fuels to environmental safety and processes, with staff available to answer questions. There were also computers at which citizens could give input for the public commentary.

The meeting was not a “hearing” where citizens could make their official statements out loud, something environmental leaders felt was circumventing the democratic process. Those opposed also raised the question as to why the hearing wouldn’t be held on the very coast that was in question. As a reaction, Monmouth County-based Clean Ocean Action held a “Citizens Hearing” in another room at the Hilton Garden for groups opposed to offshore drilling.

“On January 4, 2018, the Trump administration declared war on the Shore. The plan includes opening the entire Atlantic Ocean from Maine including all of the Jersey Shore and New York’s South Shore and would allow rigs to come as close as three miles from the beach,” said 11th Legislative District (Monmouth County)Assemblywoman Joann Downey to the assembled crowd, many of whom held signs in opposition to drilling.

“We’re obviously really upset. We’re going to continue to fight and make sure there is no drilling off our shores. Besides endangering species of fish, besides doing these things that hurt our tourism, they’re not even looking at renewable resource energy, which has to be in our future. Other countries are doing that. We need to be right there. Gov. Murphy is already looking at those particular renewable resources. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to be there with him.”

A week after the plan was announced, Zinke announced that there would be no new drilling off Florida, as tourism was too vital an industry, leaving many in New Jersey responding that we have a massive tourism economy ourselves.

There were several locally based groups at the Citizens Hearing, including the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, Alliance for a Living Ocean and New Jersey Organizing Project. They were generally concerned about the environment, the shore area’s specific $20 billion tourism economy and, less directly, the impacts of climate change fueled by extracting more fossil fuels.

“Like many groups, the Garden Club of LBI is such a diverse group – Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, the religious and atheists – that sometimes it’s hard to agree, but the decision to oppose opening 90 percent of our ocean to oil and gas drilling was a no-brainer,” said Theresa Hagan of the Garden Club. “We are 100 percent against it. Imagine this scenario: oil rigs within 3 miles of LBI’s beaches and another Superstorm Sandy. We could lose hundreds of marine mammals and birds, including 23 endangered species; more than $44 billion in tourist dollars (statewide) with its more than half a million jobs, and $6 billion in commercial fishing. Property values would plummet. And for what? If all the oil and gas sites on the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida were lumped together, drilling would net the entire country 229 days’ worth of oil and 477 days of natural gas,.

“I can’t understand why the rest of the world is backing away from fossil fuels and we’re running toward them. No one is for drilling, including our state and federal representatives.”

The club is sending a resolution to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opposing ocean drilling and Environmental Chairwoman Mary Wilding has written a letter to Zinke. Members are urged to draft similar protests.

Marsha Worthington had made the drive out from West Creek to Hamilton.

“It’s just another day under the Trump administration, where up is down and we’re moving backwards through time. This is exhausting, but necessary to show up and stand up to applaud hard-working folks who are trying to make a better world for our children and our grandchildren.”

Following several live speakers, Clean Ocean Action then got New Jersey’s top lawmakers on a Facetime chat that was broadcast live to the room. The elected officials were able to see the crowd and address those assembled. First were Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife, Tammy Snyder Murphy. Next was Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.-6th Dist.) and then N.J. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, who were in D.C., where they were working on a new immigration proposal.

Booker, who last October introduced the Environmental Justice Act of 2017, which largely strengthens legal protections against environmental injustice for communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous communities, noted that it was Valentine’s Day.

“To all those people who love a clean environment, who love the ocean, who love the greatness of New Jersey, this is a day we don’t just talk about our love, but we show our love. And love means often fighting for justice, fighting for what’s right. This is a fight that we have to have, but I see a future where drilling off the coast of New Jersey is permanently banned.”

Booker ran down the places that oil spills have had ill effects on coastlines.

“We cannot let them bring that kind of environmental disaster to the Atlantic coast, to the shores of New Jersey where hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans from tourism, to those in the commercial fishing industry rely on the pristine Atlantic Ocean for their livelihoods. This is a fight we must take today and tomorrow against the craven attempts of the Trump administration and the oil companies to steal our coast, to steal our beauty and to steal our livelihoods.”

BOEM Chief
Explains Hearing Process

After the first wave of speakers at the Citizens Hearing, most of those in attendance went over to the far room where BOEM was set up.

“It’s very useful that people are expressing concerns and providing information of the economic impacts. It’s part of what we’re supposed to take a look at. This whole program is mandated by Congress,” explained BOEM’s chief environmental officer, Bill Brown. “The charge is to develop a leasing program for offshore oil and gas but to consider environmental impacts and economic impacts, which can be negative as well as positive. That will be part of the analysis that we give the secretary of the Interior.”

He explained that BOEM didn’t hold the event closer to the coast because the state capital is inland.

“There will be a proposed program within the year. The best thing to do is present information. Fundamentally, oil and gas development or any other kind of energy development is not risk-free. But Congress knew that when it passed the mandate for us to have these meetings. We do depend on oil and gas from offshore. The last assessment I saw was that 18 percent was produced in the United States. People drive cars. BOEM is deeply involved in wind development offshore, too, and we’re excited about that. But you can’t change an economy overnight.”

A 42-gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 45 gallons of petroleum products. Of that, the U.S. uses about 18 gallons for gasoline and 11 gallons for diesel fuel, making transportation the biggest oil need.

Brown was sure to point out that he understands climate change is, in fact, real and caused by human actions, whereas President Trump, who is pushing to extract more fossil fuels, has stated that he does not believe Earth’s climate is warming and the idea is a hoax propagated by the Chinese.

“I think there’s no reasonable doubt that greenhouse gas emissions from people are warming up the Earth and causing climate change. BOEM includes analysis of impacts of climate change in our documents.”

Stopping oil drilling off our coasts has long been a bipartisan issue in New Jersey. Next Monday, Feb. 26, Republican Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of LBI, will join Cape May County officials, business leaders and environmental groups against the current proposal. Republican Tom MacArthur, of the 3rd Congressional District (Waretown, Barnegat and part of Stafford), is also against it.

“We killed the drill in the past,” said Menendez. “We’re going to kill it again. We know what it means to our coastline. If you’re going to drill, you’re going to spill. And we cannot afford a spill on our beautiful coastline. We cannot afford the damage that would come to our fishing opportunities. We cannot create a damage to our property values. We cannot create a damage to the legacy that every New Jerseyan and people from across the country have created, coming to the Jersey Shore as part of our birthright and have a clean ocean which we enjoy.

“We invited Secretary Zinke to come to New Jersey. We wanted him to come to the shore. And we wanted him to have a real hearing.”

— Jon Coen


Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.