OCEAN COUNTY – Local politicians expressed their opposition to a draft plan to open almost all of the U.S. outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced a Draft Proposed Program that initially included 47 potential lease sales to energy companies in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region.
County and federal elected officials representing the shore came out against this measure, sending press releases to media.
“I absolutely am opposed to any offshore drilling of any kind off the coast of New Jersey,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to the county’s Division of Tourism and Business Development. “Drilling for oil and natural gas off our coastline would pose more problems than it would remedy.”
The Freeholders are expected to pass a resolution opposing offshore drilling at the board’s Jan. 17 meeting. It would be one of many resolutions that they have passed in opposition to drilling over the years.
Such drilling would seriously impact the county’s tourism industry, which brought $4.68 billion into the local economy in 2016, Vicari said.
“(Tourism) generates jobs, supports businesses and provides tax revenue, all of which could be endangered should offshore drilling be permitted,” Vicari said. “It doesn’t matter who proposes offshore drilling, it’s not good for New Jersey. It’s not a partisan issue.”
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) said that New Jersey and other states with serious concerns about drilling should be exempt the same way Florida is.
“Florida is not ‘unique’ in this situation,” said Smith, who has historically been against offshore drilling here. “New Jersey—along with other coastal states—has serious concerns about the potential consequences of offshore drilling and exploration for its $8 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry and its beach tourism, which contributes significantly to its over $40 billion tourism industry.”
Since Zinke said a discussion with Florida Governor Rick Scott prompted him to leave Florida out of consideration for oil and gas, Smith said he hoped Zinke would heed similar calls from New Jersey.
Zinke said in a statement recently: “President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice. I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor [Scott] and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
Smith said he sent a letter of opposition to Zinke signed by all members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation.
“Economically, this proposal will impact 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product that rely on healthy Atlantic Ocean ecosystems,” the letter stated. “We urge you to reconsider opening our coast to oil and gas exploration and development. Asserting our energy independence and protecting our environment do not have to be mutually exclusive, and we must accomplish this in a way that does not compromise our coastal waters and beaches that drive our economy.”
Even a minor oil spill could wash ashore and ruin native habitats and tourism, he said. The seismic testing can be disruptive and even fatal to marine wildlife.
“All states and localities opposed to this drilling proposal should be heard and those with compelling reasons, like New Jersey, should receive waivers, if we’re really about respecting local concerns in our national energy policy,” Smith said.
Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-3rd) sent out a message to the media that he spoke with Zinke about the plan and expressed his opposition.
“I have been, and remain opposed to oil drilling off the New Jersey coast because of the potential threat to the environment and the Jersey Shore’s tourism and fishing industries,” MacArthur said. “Secretary Zinke has been a trusted friend and colleague – we served together on both the House Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees – and he assured me of continued communication and transparency surrounding the Department of the Interior’s Draft Proposed Plan. The Secretary also reiterated his promise that stakeholders, including elected officials, local businesses, and fishing industry-related groups would be consulted on this issue. I appreciate Secretary Zinke’s friendship and the time he took to discuss this with me. I genuinely believe that we can work together to protect our environment and our shore economy from the dangers posed by drilling for oil off New Jersey’s coast.”