More than 370,000 members of a national environmental coalition have submitted comments opposing a proposal to drill for oil and gas off the East Coast.
A 45-day public comment period for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which would be in effect from 2019-2024, ended last Thursday.
The new program, which is outlined in an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in April, would expand drilling to the Mid and South Atlantic from southern New Jersey to central Florida. These areas are restricted from leasing to oil and gas companies under the current program put in place by the Obama administration.
The Trump administration wants to expand drilling to lower energy costs, create more jobs and make America more energy independent.
However, Michael Jasny, marine wildlife expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups in the the coalition opposing the new program, said drilling in the Atlantic doesn’t make economic sense.
“The jobs that (drilling) offers are a sliver when compared to the fishing jobs, the coastal tourism jobs that are the main-stay of so many communities along the East Coast," Jasny said.
Along the Atlantic coast, there are nearly 1.4 million jobs related to fishing, tourism and recreation that generate $95 billion in gross domestic product, according to a report by Oceana, an interrnational ocean conservation and advocacy organization.
Jasny said the possibility of catastrophic oil spills would put the coastal economy and communities at risk.
Jasny also said with drilling comes seismic surveys, which are explosions that go off in the ocean every ten seconds to search for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor.
He said those loud noises could impact the fishing industry and harm endangered marine mammals that rely on acoustics for survival.
"We know that (seismic blasts) cause fish to change their behavior in ways that causes catch rates to plummet in fisheries," Jasny said. "We know that it silences endangered whales over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers in size."
Jasny added most of the attention has been on expanding drilling to the Mid and South Atlantic, but the impacts of that may still be felt in the North Atlantic.
"It's an important thing to keep in mind that sound from seismic blasting and oil from spills do not respect state borders," Jasny said. "If seismic is taking place down south, if there's a spill further south, it may well impact waters off New England as well."
As of Monday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has tallied more than 350,000 comments via mail, email, and an online portal through Regulations.gov from elected officials, government agencies, public interest groups and private citizens. The bureau expects to have a final tally of comments within the next two weeks.