The Trump administration is holding off, for now, on plans for expanded drilling for oil and natural gas off the East Coast.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the department is waiting for decisions on appeals of a court order blocking offshore drilling in the Arctic before proceeding with drilling plans for the Atlantic. A federal judge in Alaska reinstated in March a drilling ban put in place during the Obama administration that the president had rescinded with an executive order.
Every local government along the North Carolina coast has come out with resolutions opposing both seismic testing and offshore drilling, with many from Dare County sending leaders regularly to Washington and elsewhere to lobby and testify against opening up drilling off the East Coast.
The Southern Environmental Law Center said the decision is being met with cautious enthusiasm by those opposed to drilling off the East Coast, including business leaders, conservation groups and hundreds of cities, towns and counties that have officially opposed the president’s drilling plan for the Atlantic.
“I certainly hope that ‘indefinitely delayed’ is Washington-speak for ‘never.’ Whatever the reason for this delay, more than 230 communities have spoken out against seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and those hundreds of thousands of coastal residents and businesses welcome any development that makes risking their coast less likely,” said SELC Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver in a statement.
SELC’s Nat Mund, director of federal affairs, said Bernhardt may be aligned with the oil industry, but he also recognizes the political reality of an unpopular proposal. “We can only hope this move represents a return to rationality and a genuine listening to the bipartisan voices that have asked the administration to stop this.”
The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce said the move is also good news for opponents of seismic testing in the Atlantic, because “Exploration and drilling plans should go hand-in-hand.”
Chamber President and CEO Frank Knapp Jr. said that if the new five-year drilling plan is delayed, so should any permits for seismic exploration. “A discombobulated drilling plan might not include any areas planned for exploration. We shouldn’t be using destructive exploration techniques in areas that will possibly not be offered for drilling,” he said.