In a dramatic reversal, the Obama administration has canceled a plan to auction drilling rights to the Atlantic Ocean bordering the east coast. The decision arrived amid pushback from environmentalists, coastal residents and the U.S. Navy.
The White House had proposed allowing petroleum companies to drill in Atlantic waters along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
In 2015, the Obama Administration unveiled a plan to sell leases to the 104 million acres in question between 2017-2022, Bloomberg reports.
The Interior Department stated that there are enough resources in this region that petroleum companies could harvest up to 3.3 million barrels of oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. had expressed interest in leasing the land.
The coastal communities lining across North Carolina to Georgia joined in protesting the potential drilling, concerned about the environmental effects on their beaches, potentially harming their tourist economies.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia was not opposed to drilling, making Virginia a swing state. However, the Defense Department disclosed that offshore drilling in the state would interfere with up to 80 percent of the activities of the Navy stationed in Hampton Roads.
“These living training events are fundamental to the ability of our airmen, sailors, and marines to attain and sustain the highest levels of military readiness,” said Pentagon spokesman Matthew Allen, according to The Times-Picayune.
Oil prices have declined by roughly 70 percent since 2014, making the 104 million acres along the Atlantic a highly attractive opportunity for petroleum companies.
The plan had environmentalists deeply concerned, several questioning why the White House would aid energy companies in making such long-term investments in offshore drilling.
“If you open these offshore areas up for drilling, it’s telegraphing that you really don’t believe in our ability to achieve our climate goals,” stated senior adviser Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.
“You’re saying in 20 or 30 years we will still be so stuck on fossil fuels that we can’t afford to take this oil off the table,” Matzner concluded. “If we can’t say no here, then we are in deep trouble.”
After weighing the economic benefits against the mounting opposition, the Obama administration has reportedly decided to draw a line.
Environmentalist Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana has voiced support for the reversal, according to USA Today.
“It will prevent oil spills and coastal industrialization, it makes seismic testing unnecessary and it will help promote clean energy solutions that we so desperately need,” Savitz said.
“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.”