New Jersey Lawmakers Oppose Mid-Atlantic Drilling Plan

New Jersey Lawmakers Oppose Mid-Atlantic Drilling Plan

Bipartisan group calls for public hearings on the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program

Washington - In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Congressmen Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) stressed their opposition to the Minerals Management Services plan to conduct lease sales in the Mid-Atlantic planning region off the coast of Virginia, and urged public hearings in New Jersey on the matter.

On August 24th, the Department of the Interior released the next step in the development of their Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling plan for the years 2007 2012, the Proposed Program and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The previous step, the Draft Proposed Program, was issued in February and was the first to show proposed drilling activities in the Mid-Atlantic region, which provoked strong opposition from the bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers. Only one public hearing, in Virginia, was held on that document, even though the proposed drilling area is less than 100 miles from the coast of New Jersey.


The full text of the letter to Secretary Kempthorne follows.

The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Kempthorne:

We are writing to express our continued strong opposition to the Minerals Management Services (MMS) plan to conduct lease sales in the Mid-Atlantic planning region off the coast of Virginia, as included in the Proposed 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Leasing Program and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

The beaches of New Jersey are a national treasure, and a vital source of income and pride for the state. Tourism is a $26 billion industry in New Jersey, and is responsible for over 10 percent of the state's jobs. Our vibrant commercial and recreational fisheries are among the largest in the nation, generating over a billion dollars in revenue. In addition, the environmental value of our coastlinewhich provides crucial habitat for wildlife and a critical resting spot for countless migratory birdsis almost incalculable. Drilling in the Mid-Atlantic region would put all of this at enormous risk.

Our concerns have only been strengthened by news of pipeline spills on Alaskas North Slope, which were apparently caused by the pipeline operators poor maintenance practices. These spills are stark reminders that oil and gas companies, despite their assurances, cannot be counted on to be careful stewards of the environment. Furthermore, recent reports indicate that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were responsible for the leakage of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil and petroleum products, despite earlier assertions by the industry that there were no serious leaks. The threat of a spillwhether caused by negligence, future hurricanes, or an unforeseeable accidentis simply too great for New Jerseyans to bear.

Because the potential impact of the 5-year Program on New Jersey is so large, we wrote to MMS Director Burton on March 14, 2006, asking her to hold public hearings on the Draft Proposed Plan in the state. Our request was denied, but in a July 3, 2006, response to a follow-up letter we sent, Director Burton wrote that you had made the commitment that in the event the Proposed Program and draft Environmental Impact Statement include any activity on the Atlantic seaboard, that we will work with you to ensure that a meeting is scheduled to hear views concerning such activity. As there is still activity on the Atlantic seaboard in the Proposed Program and DEIS, we ask that you schedule multiple public hearings in the state of New Jersey as soon as practical.

We look forward to working with you on this issue of critical importance to New Jersey.