Keystone Foes Take Aim at Obama's Atlantic Oil Drilling Plan

(Bloomberg) -- Environmentalists emboldened by President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline are now trying to convince the administration to close a door it opened last year to allow oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.

Activists on Wednesday plan to deliver 2 million petitions to the White House opposing the proposed sale of drilling rights from Virginia to South Carolina. More than 100 cities and counties across the East Coast have passed resolutions opposing oil exploration off their coasts and environmentalists have enlisted at least 100 members of Congress.

The action comes as the Interior Department works on a plan to govern offshore oil lease sales from mid-2017 to mid-2022. An initial draft, published last January, penciled in one sale of south Atlantic acreage, along with three auctions of oil leases near Alaska and 10 in the Gulf of Mexico. That draft foreclosed auctions of territory along the West Coast and in the north and mid-Atlantic, from Maryland to Maine.

"We are at a critical moment for the future of our coastal states," Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said in an e-mailed statement. "Right now, the Department of Interior is considering an offshore drilling plan that will put our beaches, our fishermen and our environment on the East Coast in the crosshairs for an oil spill that could devastate our shores and our economies."

Penultimate Step

When the Interior Department releases its proposal - the penultimate step before finalizing it later this year - conservationists and industry leaders expect the administration to further whittle down some of the Atlantic acreage that is up for grabs, likely shedding options in the south near the Carolinas, while leaving possible Arctic auctions on the table for now.

"They’ve signaled pretty clearly they’re going to shrink the Atlantic portion quite a bit," Athan Manuel, director of Sierra Club’s Lands Protection program, said by phone. But that modest scale-back isn’t enough for coastal residents worried about oil spills befouling beaches and environmentalists pushing a "keep it in the ground" approach to fossil fuels.

"We want the certainty of having all those areas removed. We don’t want to leave it to the whims of the oil industry and what happens on the world market," Manuel said. "These areas are special to us and should never have been put on the table in the first place."


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