New Jersey Gov. Christie Rejects President’s Offshore Drilling Plan

Published October 12, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey filed formal objections to President Donald Trump’s proposal to open the Atlantic Ocean coastline to offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

In formal comments filed on August 16, the Christie administration reaffirmed the governor’s opposition to any oil and gas production off the New Jersey coast, saying it would endanger the state’s natural resources, coastal communities, and overall economy.

New Jersey officials have long opposed drilling in the Atlantic, saying they believe any spills could put the state’s $700 billion worth of coastal properties at risk. In addition, New Jersey’s $45 billion shore-based tourism industry and its commercial fishing industry, which generates $8 billion annually and supports approximately 50,000 jobs, could also be harmed by a spill, state officials say.

Firmly Opposed

In a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management filed August 16, Bob Martin, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, outlined the state’s opposition to any offshore drilling.

“Weighing the potential negative impacts to New Jersey’s natural resources, coastal communities, and economy with the potential for energy generation and current energy needs, the State of New Jersey opposes any portion of the North and Mid-Atlantic Ocean being included in the development of a National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” Martin wrote.

In the letter, Martin also objects to drilling along the coast south of New Jersey’s shoreline, arguing currents that travel north could cause spills to spoil the state’s beaches and bays.

Reversing Obama’s Restrictions

In 2016, President Barack Obama put the Atlantic Ocean from Georgia to Virginia off-limits to any drilling for five years, citing Pentagon concerns such drilling could hinder U.S. Navy training exercises and missile testing in the area.

Shortly before leaving office, Obama barred indefinitely any oil or gas drilling in 31 canyons beneath the Atlantic Ocean from Chesapeake Bay to New England, covering nearly 6,000 square miles, including the Hudson and Baltimore canyons off the New Jersey coast.

In an executive order (EO) in April, Trump proposed reversing Obama’s offshore exploration ban, saying he wants to further development of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Trump proposed a five-year program to lease large tracts of underwater areas in the Atlantic Ocean along the Outer Continental Shelf from Maine to Florida for oil and natural gas exploration and potential development.

Following up on that EO, in early June the National Marine Fisheries Service filed a notice in the Federal Register requesting Marine Mammal Protection Act permits to allow five companies to conduct seismic surveys, an activity the Obama administration had previously banned.

Leaving Money on the Table

If Christie successfully stymies the Trump administration’s efforts to allow exploration and production of oil and gas off New Jersey’s Atlantic coast, the state will miss out on a windfall of high-paying jobs, tax revenue, and other economic benefits, says Nick Loris, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Research Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

“States have a right to voice their opinion on offshore drilling, but Gov. Christie’s opposition is severely misguided and will stifle job creation and a potential new source of revenue for the state,” Loris said. “Offshore drilling has proven to be safe, not just in the United States but around the world, yet America is the only country in the world which places a majority of its territorial waters off-limits to drilling.

“New Jersey and other Atlantic states should be excited to extract the wealth of resources off their coast,” said Loris. “As the Gulf Coast has proven, energy production, tourism, and the seafood industry work harmoniously, and are all key cogs to the region’s economy. The same should be said for other coastal areas of America.”

Equal Treatment

Oil and gas drilling should be treated the same as renewable power projects, says Robert L. Bradley Jr., CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research.

“Drilling should not be per se prohibited offshore or onshore on federal lands, given the nation’s interest in replenishing energy supply, providing revenue for the federal treasury, and reducing the deficit,” Bradley said. “Any strict environmental standards applied to oil and gas production should also be applied to wind and solar projects, to ensure a level playing field and that no anti-fossil-fuel bias is at work.

“Technologically advanced modern drilling should not be presumed guilty until proven innocent,” said Bradley.

Calls for Privatization

To reduce such political conflicts and maximize the use of resources, Bradley says the government should separate politics from federal land and offshore use decisions by privatizing public land and Outer Continental Shelf rights and allowing any qualifying bidder to purchase the parcels.

“Politics should be separated from public-land decision-making, by privatizing public lands and minerals,” said Bradley. “Putting mineral rights and surface areas up for bid, separately or together, can replace lobbying and abstract argumentation with the demonstrated preference of willingness to purchase.

“Any entity that has proven sufficient financing to cover their bid, be they environmental groups, ranchers, hunting or commercial fishing groups, oil and gas companies, or other interested parties, should be allowed to bid on the land or mineral rights, with the winning bidder determining what uses to put their property to, just like any other private property owner,” Bradley said. “Such oil and gas privatization, in fact, might be an imperative for any serious deficit reduction effort.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.

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