President Barack Obama permanently protected part of the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling on Tuesday, but the limited scope of the ban miffed longtime drilling opponents in South Carolina.
Obama withdrew about 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic from the possibility of drilling — from offshore of New England to the Chesapeake Bay. The area includes 61 canyons that form an important ecosystem for fish and other marine life and are more susceptible to climate change than other areas of the world, a news release said.
But some in South Carolina wondered why the protection didn’t extend farther.
“Beaufort is still in jeopardy,” said S.C. Small Business Association president Frank Knapp, who created an organization of coastal businesses opposed to drilling. “We were anticipating most — if not all — of the Atlantic Coast to be banned from offshore drilling. That didn’t happen.”
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Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling has helped lead a unified opposition of communities on the East Coast.
Obama earlier this year removed the Atlanic from a five-year oil and gas leasing program. Keyserling said Tuesday’s announcement was based more on science whereas removal from the five-year program resulted from public pressure.
“We’re disappointed, but we understand the difference in the decision making,” Keyserling said. “Either way, the issue is going to be on the table for quite a while.”
Keyserling said he expects a continued fight from President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration, which he expects to be “responsive to the oil industry.”
The early reports encouraged Knapp, who said that if much of the Atlantic was off limits to drilling, the rest wouldn’t be desirable.
There is not much oil worth going after anyway,” he said. “If you take away most of that area you can drill, why would you waste your time?”
Offshore drilling opponents say the potential oil reserves would be minimal and aren’t worth the risk to coastal communities’ fishing and tourism economies.
Seismic testing, a precursor to drilling, is also still on the table. The process uses airguns to deliver blasts of sound through the ocean floor in search of oil and gas deposits.
Opponents say the testing would disrupt the patterns of marine animals threaten coastal economies.
Earlier this month, the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast delivered a letter to Obama asking for permanent protection from drilling and seismic testing. The letter represented more than 35,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of commercial fishermen, the organization’s news release said.
The letter followed a visit by representatives of the organization to Washington, D.C., in November. Knapp, the organization’s co-founder, said drilling could effect hiring decisions and raises fears of a Deepwater Horizon-type disaster.
“That’s not the kind of environment that lends itself to economic growth,” Knapp said.