Federal Regulators To Hold Public Meeting In RI On Offshore Drilling Proposal

Feb 27, 2018

Federal regulators will be accepting written comment from Rhode Islanders Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s proposal to drill for oil and gas off the coast of New England.

Last month, the U.S. Interior Department released its Draft Proposed Plan for the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which outlines where and how much oil and gas companies can extract. 

Under the current program, 94 percent of federal coastal waters are off limits. If Trump's plan is approved, more than 90 percent of those waters could be open for drilling. 

The Draft Proposed Plan includes 47 potential lease sales, the largest amount ever proposed. Two of the 47 leases are proposed for the North Atlantic. 

"I think that this is an all-out war on open seas off of our coast," Lauren Carson, Rhode Island Democratic State Representative of Newport, said. 

Carson, along with Democratic State Senator of Newport Dawn Euer, have introduced bills that would ban offshore drilling in state-controlled waters up to three miles off the coast. The bills also prohibit any onshore activity related to oil production. 

Carson said the goal is to disincentivize offshore drilling because it's a risky operation.

"We don’t know to what extent emergency response organizations understand the tides, how an oil spill off the coast of Rhode Island would affect the (Narragansett) Bay, there are a lot of questions about our readiness," Carson said.

Governor Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin have also spoken out against Trump's proposal, saying oil spills could put the state's coastal economies at risk

Travel and tourism is a $5.2 billion industry that supports more than 41,000 jobs in Rhode Island. In 2015, commercial seafood sales generated $290 million, and recreational fishing contributed $332 million .   

U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke previously announced that Florida was exempt from the plan due to the state's reliance on tourism; however, Trump administration officials have claimed his announcement is not a formal decision, according to The Hill.

Rhode Island's Democratic U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse responded by signing a letter asking the Trump Administration to remove Rhode Island from consideration for offshore drilling. 

Local economists have said offshore drilling provides good-paying jobs for people from a variety of educational backgrounds, and it increases demand for support services, such as trucking, onshore. 

However, Euer pointed to the clean energy job market, which has grown more than 60 percent in Rhode Island since 2014 to around 15,000 jobs, as a source of income.  

"We shouldn't be handicapping our growing industry with a speculative and potentially damaging (oil and gas) industry," Euer said. 

Rhode Islanders can submit written comment to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and learn more about Trump's proposal at the public meeting Wednesday at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Providence from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Comments can also be submitted online or by mail.

The 2017-2022 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program will remain in effect until a revised plan is approved. The bureau's goal is to have a new program approved by the end of 2019.