Brooklyn Boro

Cuomo to Trump: Oil drilling off NY coast would kill economy, wildlife

U.S. Issued Exemption for Fla., Now NY Wants Out, Too

January 16, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A family heads to the beach for a quiet evening swim at Coney Island.  AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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Oil slicks off Coney Island. Disruptions at the largest container port on the East Coast. Empty nets for New York’s fishing industry.

With these scenarios in mind, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a formal request on Monday for New York to be exempted from the Trump administration’s proposed plan to expand offshore oil drilling to every coastal state.

Cuomo said New York state’s coastal economy generates tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, all of which would be threatened by toxic chemicals released during drilling and from oil spills. There are currently no oil wells off the Atlantic coastline.

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Cuomo’s letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke comes a week after Zinke said the Trump administration would allow the state of Florida to be exempted from the controversial plan, called the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

According to the Associated Press, after a short meeting between Zinke and Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott at a local airport, Zinke said oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be “off the table” because of Florida’s reliance on tourism. Other coastal states immediately clamored to be exempt as well.

In his letter to Zinke issued on Monday, Cuomo wrote in part, “Your decision to remove Florida from consideration of any new oil and gas platforms before your department has even concluded its public fact-finding process appears arbitrary. Nevertheless, to the extent that states are exempted from consideration, New York should also be exempted.”

Cuomo said that an oil spill offshore New York’s Atlantic coast “would cripple the state’s ocean tourism economy and devastate coastal ecosystems, and toxic chemical releases associated with day-to-day drilling operations and pipeline leaks would negatively impact marine and other wildlife.” He added that just this week two of the world’s 450 remaining North Atlantic Right whales were observed off Montauk.

Cuomo said the plan also undermines New York’s efforts to shift from fossil energy sources to renewable sources, such as offshore wind. The federal government has designated an offshore area less than 20 miles southeast of Brooklyn to lease to companies operating wind turbines. New York is aiming for 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, enough power for more than 1.2 million homes, according to Cuomo.

Worries about the proposal reflect the nation’s shock after incidents such as the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the worst offshore environmental catastrophe in the country.

More than 3 million barrels of oil covered beaches and shoreline from Florida to Texas, killing wildlife and crippling tourism and fishing for years. BP agreed to settle out of court and pay more than $20 billion, but the impacts of the spill are still “ongoing and significant,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

While the area is thought to be recovering, rough waters still brings up mats of tar, which need to be removed from the shore by hand. Direct knowledge of what is happening to the oil where it settled in the Gulf’s deeper waters is not available, but a simulation created by scientists indicates that bacteria may be degrading it, according to a report in CNBC.

Advocates for the oceans also worry about activities associated with oil exploration, including seismic airgun blasting, which creates a sound that can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, according to the nonprofit Oceana. These loud blasts can impact fish, shellfish and other invertebrates, whales and sea turtles, the organization says.

The Trump administration’s proposal considers roughly 90 percent of the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas lease sales. It includes 47 potential lease sales — 19 off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic Region — which would be the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

“This is the start at looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore dominance,” Zinke said during a conference call announcing the proposal.

After Zinke announced that Florida would be exempted from the oil lease process, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted to Zinke, “How about doing the same for Oregon?” Other affected states have plans to oppose the lease sales as well.

While these coastal states presumably have to go through a formal process to have their situation considered, Florida apparently has received an immediate free pass.

Meanwhile, New York City is divesting from oil-related companies and is suing five of the biggest oil companies. Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an interview with Brian Lehrer on Friday that the oil companies “have covered up the impact their industry has had on climate change and continued to sell a product that they know is damaging and dangerous.”

The Trump administration is planning to have public meetings around the country to discuss the leases between January and February. The New York meeting is set for Feb.15 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Albany Hilton, 40 Lodge St., Albany. (Online comments may be submitted at https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/.)

 


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