Georgia’s coast and other Atlantic Coast communities won a major victory today, when the Obama administration abandoned its plans to open the southern Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades.
“Just as Georgia’s businesses and coastal have been saying for the last year, ‘when you drill you spill,’” said Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia director. “Today President Obama heard them, and protected marine life, world famous beaches, and family vacations from Savannah to Cumberland Island.”
Announced last January, the initial 2017 to 2022 Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan put at risk beaches from Virginia to Georgia, marine life such as the right whales, sea turtles, and dolphins; and thriving tourism and fishing industries that contribute more than $4 billion in total economic activity. The updated version released today completely removes the Atlantic lease areas from the plan.
Opposition to the drilling proposal had been building for months, particularly among coastal towns and businesses – who view the prospect of offshore oil and gas rigs as a threat to beaches, fisheries, and the Atlantic’s coastal economy. Brunswick, Savannah, Tybee, St Marys and Kingsland all passed resolutions opposed to drilling or seismic testing for oil and gas off Georgia’s coast.
According to the National Ocean Economics Program, ocean-related tourism and recreation generates three times the amount of economic activity Atlantic drilling is estimated to produce.
Last month Environment Georgia and our allies along the Atlantic presented Obama officials with letters signed by more than 1,000 East Coast businesses opposed to the drilling proposal.
“Today’s announcement is great for business,” said Jeff Downey co-owner of Circa 1875 a bistro and pub in Savannah, GA. “Whether you look at the environmental costs, the cost to our business’ bottom lines or the cost to our families, our coasts are worth more when they are oil free.”
Citizens also turned out in droves to oppose the drilling plan in public meetings up and down the coast, with more than 1400 people, the vast majority against drilling, attending public meetings last year.
While the administration took the Atlantic out of its proposed program, new lease areas for drilling remain in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, environmental groups presented the administration with 2 million signatures from citizens across the country, urging protection for not only the Atlantic, but the Arctic and the remaining unleased portions of the gulf as well.
“We applaud the president for protecting our beaches and coastal way of life from drilling and spilling ,” said Gayer. “But to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we must keep the vast majority of oil, coal, and gas beneath the sea and in the ground. That’s why we urge the president to meet the Paris climate accord and his new agreement with Canada, and take all new drilling off the table.”