Today, a group of business representatives, local government officials and coastal leaders from towns along the Eastern Seaboard arrived in Washington with a clear message to the president: They don't want oil drilling off their coast, and they want to make sure their concerns are being heard in the White House.
But the people who live, work and vacation on the Atlantic coast are refusing to allow that way of life to be threatened. At least, not without a fight.
Over the last year, opposition to seismic blasting and offshore drilling has quickly spread. This movement has united business interests, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, scientists and policymakers. Nearly 90 East Coast cities and towns have now passed formal resolutions formally opposing seismic blasting and/or offshore oil. All of South Carolina's coastal municipalities stand against oil development, three-quarters of coastal towns in North Carolina also oppose oil development so far and several other states are close behind. New resolutions pass every week, following the lead of cities like Charleston, S.C.; Wilmington, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Baltimore. In March, 75 leading marine scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to reject proposals for seismic oil and gas surveys, due to mounting evidence that the blasts would seriously harm ocean animals and ecosystems.
One of the flashpoints of the movement was sparked early last year, when residents of the normally placid community of Kure Beach, N.C. discovered that their mayor had written a letter in support of seismic blasting. He soon found himself facing a room packed with furious constituents demanding that he rescind his position. He did not. Two weeks ago, he was voted out of office. The new mayor-elect, Emilie Swearingen, was one of the Kure Beach councilmembers to oppose the measure. This week, Swearingen has traveled to Washington to talk to national media and federal policymakers.
Legally, the people who will be most affected by offshore oil development have no say in whether or not to allow oil companies to disrupt the places they live, work and play. They rely on their elected officials, most importantly, Obama, to protect their well-being. But it's not clear that their voices are being heard. People like Swearingen are determined to change that. The coastal leaders visiting Washington today are meeting with national reporters and federal officials; a coalition of environmental groups, including Oceana, has placed ads in a series of publications highlighting the significant and still-growing opposition; and grassroots activists across the country are sharing the video above that depicts the extent and strength of the resistance to oil development in the Atlantic. All of these actions send a clear message: The people on the coast are saying "no" to big oil and rejecting the false promises made by oil and gas lobbyists.
That oil companies still have any credibility is mystifying. Oil representatives insisted that their ships were safe before we saw hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil pour from a gash in the Exxon Valdez in 1989. They continue to assure us their oil trains are safe, despite at least five derailments and a number of massive explosions just this year. They insisted they had everything under control before BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. I saw firsthand the ecological and economic tragedies unfolding after that disaster. Examples of negligence and false assurances abound.
The people paid by oil companies downplay the risks of oil drilling and talk up revenue sharing and job creation. At Oceana, we've looked at these claims, and the numbers being provided by oil companies just don't add up. Industry assessments about job creation and revenue are based on an outdated industry-funded study that uses false assumptions that lead to inflated projections. Oceana's calculations conclude that jobs and revenues from Atlantic oil would be a small fraction of the industry's estimates and that they would in fact be outnumbered by the jobs from clean energy.
In Wilmington, after presentations from both oil industry representatives and marine scientists, one of the councilmembers addressed the revenue sharing that was repeatedly brought up by the industry spokesperson: "I bet there are a lot of people on the Gulf coast that would give all that money back. It's nice to know there's not been an oil spill on the Atlantic Seaboard. I hope there never is," he said. With that final remark, and after listening to all of the arguments from the industry, the Wilmington City Council voted unanimously to oppose seismic blasting and offshore drilling.
That Wilmington resolution passed in July. Since then, the number of municipalities officially opposing offshore oil and seismic activity has grown by nearly a third. The opposition is extensive and diverse, it is unified and it is growing. It's time for Washington to listen. It's time for President Obama to protect our coast and reject permits and leases for seismic blasting and offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
Savitz is vice president for Oceana in the U.S.