Department of Interior Hearing On Offshore Ocean Energy Development in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Released by: Environment America

Executive Summary

Good morning, Secretary Salazar. My name is Michael Gravitz and I am the Oceans Advocate for Environment America.  Environment America is federated with 26 statewide grassroots environmental organizations like Environment New Jersey which will be speaking against the expansion of offshore drilling today too.  Collectively, we have hundreds of thousands of members in our organizations. There are 16 coastal states in our federation, each with tens of thousands of members who care deeply about the land and water environment.  On the east coast these include: Environment Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.  We are represented in every Atlantic coast state other than Delaware and South Carolina. 

Each of these states has at least several irreplaceable coastal places and marine ecosystems that would be negatively affected by offshore drilling which is a major reason why I am here today to testify against new drilling.  In fact, I will be asking your administration to reinstate the drilling moratorium on the east and west coasts that the last administration and Congress removed.

First, let me heartily congratulate you and the Department of the Interior for beginning to switch your emphasis on energy production in the ocean from extraction of oil and natural gas to the sustainable production of clean energy from wind, waves and currents. If we want to end our addiction to oil and gas for national security and a host of environmental reasons including global warming and ocean acidification, we must begin by using the sustainable energy that the ocean produces. Your report shows a huge potential for wind energy off the Atlantic coast just utilizing shallow waters. In fact, your report concludes that coastal states could generate at least 20% of their electricity from the ocean. We must rapidly move in that direction and refocus the energy, talents and budget of the Minerals Management Service in that direction.

I welcome you to Atlantic City, a city based for over one hundred years on clean beaches and clean ocean water. I grew up in Philadelphia, PA and have been coming to Atlantic City to play on the sandy beaches and in the back bays for as long as I can remember which is over 50 years. If the ocean was fouled with oily waste or there were tar balls on the beach or the back bays were damaged, my relationship with this place would be quite different.

You may not be aware of this but we are on a barrier beach island with the ocean on one side and tens of thousands of acres of sensitive bays and saltwater marshes on the back side that support immensely productive fisheries and bird populations.  The back bays and marshes are extremely sensitive to pollution, including pollution from oil spills which is impossible to clean up in their sandy, muddy sediments.  In fact, the bays and marshes are the worst place for spilled oil of any kind to end up. Your department and the nation’s ocean agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recognize this sensitivity by giving this type of ecosystem the highest environmental sensitivity index (ESI) ranking in their shoreline environmental sensitivity ranking system.

I wish to make three points this morning:

1. The ocean, contrary to the way some people think about it, is not a desert. It is more like a forest filled with a variety of special places, vibrant communities and sensitive ecosystems. It is not just a place to extract oil and natural gas from.

2. Within this living ocean there are wonderful submarine canyons, deep water coral gardens, plateaus like Georges Bank with immensely productive fisheries, migratory highways for marine mammals, turtles and birds, areas of special habitat where fish and shellfish aggregate to reproduce or grow especially well and habitats that shelter critical life stages from predators. Connected to the ocean are coastal beaches with marshes and bays lying behind barrier islands.

3. When deciding whether to approve seismic testing or exploration and production off the east coast, your department needs to balance the safety of those special areas against the potential for damage from oil drilling.  The only way to adequately assess the balance  would be for your department (with the participation of NOAA and possibly the National Academy of Science) to do a comprehensive census of those special places and analyze possible impacts on them from drilling.