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Obama Administration Will Not Allow Atlantic Offshore Drilling

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in December.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in December.

The Obama administration is reversing a plan to allow oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, after an uproar from local communities over environmental concerns.

"We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

Georgia Public Broadcasting's Emily Jones tells our Newscast unit that this is a reversal from a draft proposal issued in January 2015:

"The Department of Defense, environmental groups and more than a hundred coastal communities objected to the drilling proposal. They argued drilling would conflict with Navy and commercial fishing activity, and endanger wildlife."

The Interior Department says the original plan received more than a million comments. The proposal included a lease area that started 50 miles off the coast and stretched from Virginia to Georgia. It would have allowed drilling starting from 2021.

The original proposal allowing drilling in the Atlantic was billed by the Interior Department as a "balanced approach" and included protections for land in Alaska, as NPR's Mara Liasson reported. She adds: "That seemingly contradictory package of drilling regulations had environmentalists cheering and jeering at the same time."

The New York Times reported the proposal to allow drilling had been popular with lawmakers from the states impacted:

"The proposal came after governors, state legislators and senators from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all expressed support for the drilling. Lawmakers in the state capitals saw new drilling as creating jobs and bolstering state revenue."

And unsurprisingly, the proposal had also been popular with the oil and gas industry, which saw the Atlantic as a "promising frontier." As Bloomberg reports, "It's unclear how much oil and gas could be deposited along the U.S. East Coast; government projections using decades-old geological surveys estimate 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas." The news service adds: "Geologists say discoveries in other Atlantic waters around the world suggest even bigger potential."

Jacqueline Savitz, the U.S. vice president of the ocean advocacy group Oceana, said in a statement Tuesday that "with this decision coastal communities have won a 'David vs. Goliath' fight against the richest companies on the planet, and that is a cause for tremendous optimism for the well-being of future generations."

The current plan is not yet final. The Interior Department called Tuesday's announcement "one step in a multi-step process."

As Emily reports, "the new proposed five-year program also outlines plans for oil drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.