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offshore drilling

Elected officials, scientists and environmentalists filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building last year to provide testimony against offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

State legislators are trying to ensure the federal government doesn’t murk up New York’s coastal waters.

Both the New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 to prohibit oil and natural gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas. The legislative action comes a year after hundreds of Long Island residents attended a public hearing at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Smithtown to voice concerns relating to discussions on the federal level over potential drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Assemblyman Steve Englebright addresses the crowd before a hearing last year concerning the proposal of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the Assembly environmental conservation committee chair, was one of the legislators who hosted last year’s Smithtown hearing. The assemblyman said in a statement those who attended the hearing unanimously condemned the federal government’s proposal to drill for oil and gas in open waters.

“This legislation will safeguard our water and shores from the dangers of fossil fuel exploration and drilling, and will support our efforts to move our state toward cleaner and renewable energy sources,” Englebright said.

The legislation would prohibit the use of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling; prevent the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of General Services from authorizing leases which would increase oil or natural gas production from federal waters; and prohibit the development of infrastructure associated with exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas from New York’s coastal waters, according to a press release from Englebright’s office.

The new legislation will reaffirm the state’s coastal management practices to ensure the protection of endangered and threatened species, along with tourism and recreational and commercial fishing industries, according to Englebright.

“Our largest industry in New York, and especially in coastal New York, is tourism,” Englebright said. “Oil and gas exploration is incompatible with tourism. We’ve seen the kinds of mistakes that have occurred in other parts of the world where oil and gas exploration near recreation areas and near active fisheries has occurred. We don’t want those kinds of chaos to descend upon our economy or our state.”

“We’ve seen the kinds of mistakes that have occurred in other parts of the world where oil and gas exploration near recreation areas and near active fisheries has occurred. We don’t want those kinds of chaos to descend upon our economy or our state.”

— Steve Englebright

The legislation updates New York State laws that are decades old, according to a press release from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

“Offshore drilling is the single largest threat to the sustainability of Long Island’s environment,” Gaughran said in a statement. “I am proud that under [Senate] Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins [D-Yonkers], New York State is moving toward protecting our natural resources and banning senseless proposals to drill off our beautiful coast.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who was the original lead sponsor of the legislation in the state Senate, said he urges the governor to sign the bill.

“We have painstakingly worked to preserve and protect our pristine waters, and we certainly do not want to imperil all of our efforts to maintain clean water by allowing drilling off our shoreline,” LaValle said.

Kevin McAllister, founding president of Sag Harbor-based nonprofit Defend H2O, said restricting oil and gas exploration off the coast is important as the drilling for fossil fuels negatively impacts the environment. He said it’s critical for states along the entire Eastern Seaboard to follow suit, and he urges Cuomo to enlist coastal solidarity.

“If rising seas, ocean acidification, killer floods aren’t sobering enough, don’t overlook a legacy of regret with oil extraction and transport,” he said. “Santa Barbara oil spill, Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon all inflicted massive damages to the marine and the coastal environment over thousands of square miles. In the oil industry, accidents happen. The best way to prevent another catastrophe is to close the door on further exploration.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

If it wasn’t clear following six hours of Valentine’s Day testimony, the usual suspects were at it once again delivering a unified message against the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the United States Department of the Interior were at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2 to hear public comments from lawmakers across the political spectrum demand its proposed plan to expand natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters be scrapped. The Feb. 14 hearing, which did not feature departmental participation, was held in the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, an alternative to the federal bureau’s original plan for a single public hearing in Albany that took place the next day. Long Island lawmakers vehemently pushed back on the single upstate hearing, demanding at least one downstate hearing due to the impact such a plan might have locally.

Though the interior didn’t hear the first batch of testimony on Long Island in February, State Assemblyman and Committee on Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said a transcript of the entire meeting would be submitted as written public comment on the proposal. Neither of the two local hearings featured a single speaker in favor of proceeding with offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers wait for an opportunity to speak in opposition to an offshore drilling plan during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

First District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) played a vital role in securing the hearing in his home district, calling the initial one-Albany-hearing plan “unacceptable” Friday.

Zeldin and others reiterated the fact that there currently is not evidence to suggest the resources that would be drilled for currently exist off the coast of Long Island, in addition to the hazardous impact the plan would have on marine life. The congressman stopped short of joining lawmakers to his political left in calling for investment in renewable sources of energy as opposed to more drilling for oil and gas, though he has voted for such legislation in the past.

“Drilling in the ocean for gas or oil is foolhardy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during his remarks. “We should be looking at alternative energy. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a common-sense issue.”

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Public comments on the proposal can be submitted on the department’s website through March 9 by visiting https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments.

Notable quotes from the March 2 hearing:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “Here on Long Island, we are a maritime community. We grow up with one foot in the water, one foot on the land — a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other. That’s who we are. You might think we love living on Long Island because we love the taxes, or we just love traffic, but that’s not it. We love living by the water. It’s what makes us live here.”

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 director: “Seismic surveys necessary for oil and gas resource exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day for weeks to months at a time. The low frequency, high energy sound they produce is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off our coast.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright: “New York has committed to meeting future energy goals though clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. The state is working to shape an energy portfolio that moves away from carbon pollution toward renewable resources that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in coastal communities from sea level rise to more extreme and frequent storms. The federal proposal is incompatible with that.”

Christine Pellegrino (D), New York State Assembly 9th District, Environmental Conservation Committee: “Our communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and five years later we’re still not whole. Natural disasters can greatly increase the chance of a spill. Are you willing to risk our island, because I am not. Environmental groups warn that just opening the door to oil drilling in pristine federal lands and waters could lead to more tragic spills like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil over an 87-day period before it was capped.”

Kevin McCallister, founder and president Defend H2O: “It’s not a question of if [an oil spill will happen], but it’s a question of when and where. Unlike some from New York certainly concerned about Long Island, I submit that we’ve got to keep [offshore drilling] off the entire East Coast. I think this is obviously regression when we should be moving toward renewables. To really slip back in time in environmental intelligence is quite concerning.”

Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island president and CEO: “Tourism on Long Island is a $5.6 billion industry. It supports more than 100,000 local jobs. Tourism is much more than vacationers enjoying our pristine beaches. More than 80 percent of our tourism industry is made up of small business — hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, boutique owners, wineries, farmers and the endless indirect businesses that thrive on the success of our industry including banks, audio/visual companies, landscapers, lawyers, attorneys and much more … Overnight that could all change, and those revenues and jobs can be stripped from the economy if not protected.”

This post was updated March 5 to include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s prior support for legislation directed toward researching renewable energy.

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