NOAA Concerns Brushed Aside in Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

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NOAA Concerns Brushed Aside in Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

Political Positioning Trumps Promises of Comprehensive Planning


Washington, DC — The Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy announced this week by the Obama administration ignores the recommendations and cautions put forward by its lead ocean resource agency, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new offshore drilling plan also belies pledges for comprehensive planning of ocean management, using a much broader prism than merely expanded offshore oil and gas development.

In comments filed on September 21, 2009, NOAA urged that plans for an ambitious lease schedule for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf be dramatically scaled back. Besides environmental concerns, NOAA advocated in vain for a coordinated ocean strategy. Citing “many competing priorities” of fisheries, navigation, military activities, deepwater ports and a variety of non-petroleum energy projects, NOAA recommended that:

“…lease areas should not be further considered…until the CEQ-led Ocean Policy Task Force has released its recommendations and directives,”

referring to the multi-agency ocean zoning effort spearheaded by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. In a June 12, 2009 Memorandum to Executive Departments and Agencies, President Obama also set forth a comprehensive planning approach at odds with his ad hoc oil and gas drilling pronouncement:

“To succeed in protecting the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, the United States needs to act within a unifying framework under a clear national policy, including a comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for the longterm conservation and use of our resources.”

“If the Ocean Policy Task Force is supposed to develop a zoning plan for our oceans, this Interior drilling plan is spot zoning on steroids,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that President Obama appeared to be making a political gesture to benefit Senate climate negotiations. “The Obama drilling gambit appears to be politics as usual rather than the promised rational, balanced planning effort.”

In addition, the new Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy pays no heed to recommended NOAA safeguards for fisheries, marine mammals and coastal populations, including:

  • A moratorium on any Arctic Ocean drilling until much better oil spill prevention and response capability is in place. NOAA also contends that Interior plans understate the expected frequency of and risk from spills, generally, noting aftereffects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and
  • Buffer zones that would bar drilling “around national marine sanctuaries, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, Critical Habitat for endangered and threatened species, major fishing grounds and to provide visual buffers to coastal areas dependent upon tourism.”

“NOAA does not appear to have a seat at the table where ocean policy is decided in this administration,” added Ruch, noting that one of the only NOAA recommendations adopted was an exclusionary zone for Bristol Bay in Alaska but then only temporarily. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to regard ocean resources as a bargaining chip rather than as a heritage.”


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