The Department of the Interior announced a proposal to greatly expand the areas available for offshore oil and gas leases. It also proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history. In response, The Nature Conservancy released the following statement from Co-Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett:
“We’re deeply disappointed with the Interior Department’s proposal on offshore oil and gas drilling. It presents significant risk to marine and coastal resources, as well as the resilience and economic benefits of those resources that many communities depend upon. And, it would mean the Department is taking those risks against its own advice of a year ago, and against the wishes of many of the states that would be most affected.
“As a part of its ongoing process on this issue, we strongly urge the Department to carefully consider both the documented ecological significance and vulnerability of coastal and marine resources to oil and gas activities and the extensive ecological data gaps that have prevented sufficient evaluation of environmental impacts as this process moves forward. Without such information and analysis, there can be no assurances that both the economic and environmental needs of the nation are being met.
“The Department’s own most recent offshore oil and gas 5-Year Plan—completed just a year ago—found that inclusion of many of these areas was not prudent. The Department has the responsibility to demonstrate whether new data and approaches that sufficiently address the data gaps and environmental impacts have become available since the completion of the current plan.
“As part of the Conservancy’s analyses of prior proposals, we found that expansion into some of the proposed new areas simply wasn’t supported by the data. We will carefully review any new information provided by the Department and provide additional comments.
“Under law, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is required to balance the economic and environmental interests of the nation as it develops each 5-Year Plan. Protecting important coastal and ocean areas is an investment in nature that yields benefits ranging from storm protection to increased tourism. Ocean and coastal areas deliver a host of benefits that communities rely on for food, disaster mitigation, jobs, and recreation.
“Analyses about potential oil and gas development along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) should not narrowly focus on just the benefits provided by the offshore energy sector, but rather consider the full suite of demonstrated economic and societal value of the services, jobs, and recreation in these areas to accurately account for the benefits that they provide. Not only are these sectors valuable nationally, they often are the key economic drivers in coastal communities.
“In this regard, the evaluation process should consider the views of the governments of states adjacent to OCS leasing sites. Coastal states have done significant analysis of the sensitivity of their coastal areas to the potential impacts of oil and gas production. They have also measured the economic importance of uses of their coastlines, such as tourism and outdoor recreation, that could be affected by OCS production. Thus, we believe that states should have an important role in the OCS decision-making process.
“The risks that our vulnerable ocean and coastal resources and communities would face under this proposal would be exacerbated by the Department’s recently announced proposal to roll back safeguards put in place after the historic Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“While the Department and industry had made progress toward reducing the risk of oil spills, we remain concerned about risks of catastrophic spills and capacity to clean up spills. This proposal ignores advice provided to the Department by members of the bipartisan Oil Spill Commission and raises further concerns if additional environmentally sensitive areas are opened for leasing.”