Offshore Oil Drilling Is on Hold

Federal judge stops Trump administration plan, while Cuomo signs a ban

The Trump administration’s plan to allow oil and gas exploration and extraction off the Atlantic Coast is apparently on indefinite hold. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that a federal judge’s March declaration that President Trump’s order revoking a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic is illegal may force the federal Department of the Interior to wait until that case is resolved before a final decision can be made about which offshore areas would be opened to the fossil-fuel industry. 

Separately, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, with the musician Billy Joel by his side, signed legislation on Monday to ban offshore drilling in New York State waters. The legislation, according to a release from the governor’s office, will bar the state from granting permits for oil or gas exploration or drilling in offshore areas controlled by the state.

“This bill says no way are you going to drill off the coast of Long Island and New York,” the governor said in the statement, “because we must lead the way as an alternative to what this federal government is doing.”

The March decision by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason once again rendered 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean, along with 125 million acres of the Arctic Ocean, off limits to exploration and drilling under a ban President Obama enacted in December 2016, shortly before leaving office.

“The recent announcement that the Trump administration is backing down on oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Seaboard is good news,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in an email on Tuesday, “as is Governor Cuomo’s signing yesterday of state legislation that would prohibit drilling for oil or gas exploration in state offshore waters.”

Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approved five requests that would allow companies to conduct seismic surveys. The “incidental take” authorizations allowed companies conducting such surveys — geophysical companies working on behalf of oil and gas corporations — to harm marine life as long as it was unintentional. 

The surveys were to be conducted using seismic air guns, which emit loud blasts on a recurring basis, 10 seconds apart for 24 hours a day, often for weeks at a time, according to the environmental group Greenpeace. The sonic blasts, or “pings,” penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor and can harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish. They can result in temporary and permanent hearing loss, habitat abandonment, disruption of mating and feeding, beachings, and death, according to Greenpeace. 

When the federal government announced a plan to reopen Atlantic Ocean areas to oil and gas development in 2017, Mr. Van Scoyoc, as a member of the town board, sponsored a nonbinding resolution in support of a continued ban. 

 “As the resolution stated, the Town of East Hampton relies upon its pristine beaches, estuaries, harbors, bays, and offshore waters to support our tourist, fishing, recreation, and real estate industries,” he said in the email, “and a single oil spill anywhere along the Atlantic coastline could have a devastating impact on our economy and environment.” 

Representative Lee Zeldin, who is generally supportive of the Trump administration, was one of dozens of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to write to Ryan Zinke, who was then the secretary of the Interior Department, and Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Department secretary, to “strongly oppose” the incidental-take permits and exploration off the Atlantic shoreline. 

Seismic air guns “can disturb, harm, and potentially kill not only marine mammals but also a wide range of marine life that support coastal economies from Florida to Maine,” the letter said. “Offshore oil and gas exploration and development, the first step of which is seismic air gun testing, puts at risk coastal economies based on fishing, tourism, and recreation. Numerous studies show the detrimental impacts seismic air gun blasting has on fisheries and marine mammals, thereby affecting the catch anglers bring dockside and the revenue generated by related businesses.” 

The members of Congress said that constituents, including business owners, 

elected officials, and coastal residents, had contacted them to register their opposition to oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Atlantic or eastern Gulf of Mexico. “Local chambers of commerce, tourism and restaurant associations, and an alliance representing over 43,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families strongly oppose offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling,” they wrote. 

All 17 governors of coastal states in the contiguous United States opposed the Trump administration’s plan, The Journal reported. Governor Cuomo, according to the release from his office, signed the bill in direct response to the Trump administration’s proposal to open coastal areas to drilling.