Offshore Drilling Threatens the Pinelands

On January 4, the federal administration unveiled a proposal that would open up almost all of the nation’s federal waters for off-shore oil and gas drilling, including off the coast of New Jersey.

Image of Barnegat Bay Lighthouse © Ernest CozensBarnegat Bay Lighthouse © Ernest Cozens © Ernest Cozens

The Draft National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program would allow oil and gas drilling in over 90% of the Outer Continental Shelf area. The proposal is a sharp reversal of current policy, which protects over 90% of this area from oil and gas drilling.

Offshore drilling poses significant risks at all stages. Workers on rigs risk their lives working 12-hour shifts, and any missteps can be fatal. Oil spills at sea devastate ecosystems and fishery- and tourism-based economies. It can take decades for ecosystems to recover from spills, and some species may not rebound at all. Burning the extracted oil and gas exacerbates climate change and increases levels of pollution in primarily low income communities of color.

Transporting oil and gas from the rig to refineries brings additional risks of ruptures, explosions, and leaks, which would directly endanger drinking water and communities, like those of the Pinelands. Former Governor James Florio, among others, has repeatedly cited the risk offshore drilling would pose to the Pinelands as a driving force behind his support of legal and regulatory protections for the region. The Pinelands sits atop the 17-trillion gallon Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, which services almost one million New Jersey residents and provides habitat for over 40 threatened and endangered wildlife species.

The way the Pinelands Commission has twisted the Comprehensive Management Plan to approve the New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas pipelines leaves little potential for the Pinelands rules to prevent oil or gas pipelines from traveling from the coastline across the Pinelands to refineries in Philadelphia. Approval of this draft plan presents a significant and imminent danger to the Pinelands, and it is our responsibility to step up in opposition. In addition to these ecological and public health catastrophes, approval of this plan would also endanger New Jersey’s $20 billion shore-driven tourism economy and the livelihoods of the New Jerseyans who depend on this income.

On April 20th, Governor Murphy signed into law the STOP Offshore Oil and Gas Act, which prohibits oil and gas infrastructure in state waters. This was a huge win and made possible by activism across the state. Congratulations!

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) accepted public comment through March 2018. They are currently reviewing comments. Another comment period will be forthcoming. Thank you to those who commented or attended the public meeting!

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