The Obama administration unveiled a plan on Tuesday that would open up a large swath of federal waters off the coast of the eastern United States to oil and gas drilling. Under the plan, drilling in the Atlantic could span from Virginia to Georgia.
“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The administration called it a “multi-year process to develop a final offshore leasing program for 2017-2022” and that the “the public will continue to have multiple opportunities to provide input.”
In addition to Atlantic Ocean drilling, the proposal would expand drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Alaskan coastline.
The US federal government oversees about 6,000 active leases that span more than 32 million acres in the outer-continental shelf. The majority of these sites are in the Gulf of Mexico, the Interior Department says. About 18 percent of domestic oil production and 5 percent of domestic natural gas production occurred at these drilling sites in 2013.
The administration’s plan does not come without opposition. As the New York Times reports:
Environmentalists said opening the Atlantic waters would put the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia at risk for an environmental disaster like the BP spill that struck the Gulf Coast in 2010, when millions of barrels of oil washed ashore after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Local advocacy groups in those states said that the drilling could harm tourism, fishing and other coastal industries that are already major drivers of the Southeastern economy.
The announcement could be seen as a tactical move as the administration seeks Congressional approval for expanded protection of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.