It’s been decades since a fisherman out of Montauk on Long Island told me about seeing a ship in the Atlantic Ocean east of Long Island similar to those he had seen searching for oil in the Gulf of Mexico when he was a shrimper there. I telephoned oil company after company and each gave a firm denial about having any interest in looking for petroleum off Long Island.
That was until a PR man from Gulf called back and said, yes, his company was looking for oil and gas off Long Island and was involved in a consortium of 32 oil companies (many of which earlier issued denials).
It was my first experience in oil industry honesty– an oxymoron.
Then, after breaking the story as an investigative reporter for the daily Long Island Press about the oil industry seeking to drill in the offshore Atlantic, there were years of staying on the story. I traveled the Atlantic Coast including in 1971 getting onto the first off-shore drilling rig set up in the Atlantic, off Nova Scotia. The riskiness of offshore drilling was obvious on that rig. There were spherical capsules to eject workers in emergencies. And a rescue boat went round-and-round 24-hours-a-day. The man from Shell Canada said: “We treat every foot of hole like a potential disaster.”
You might recall seeing movies from years ago about oil drilling in the west and the drill hitting a “gusher” and it raining oil on happy workers. But on an offshore rig that “gusher” would be raining oil on the sea and life in it and then the oil would move to shore.
The Shell Canada executive gestured to the Nova Scotia shore and said peat moss was being stockpiled to try to absorb spilled oil. On Long Island, he said, “you’d use straw.”
In the ’70s there were the weeks of public hearings I covered at state houses in Boston, Massachusetts and Trenton, New Jersey, and also hearings on Long Island. I traveled down the coast to the Florida Keys, its turquoise waters on the agenda of the oil industry, too.
Congressional action and in recent years restrictions by the Obama administration blocked drilling in the Atlantic off the United States and elsewhere in U.S. waters. But now under the Trump administration the push is on again.
The New York State Legislature has just passed a bill prohibiting drilling in state coastal waters. That’s only three nautical miles out. However, the measures bars development of infrastructure such as pipelines to service oil and gas drilling. A co-sponsor of the measure, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor says: “Tourism is a major economic driver for Long Island; we also have very viable commercial and recreational fishing industries. The proposal for offshore drilling threatens both our economy and our environment.”
Other Atlantic Coast states have enacted identical or similar measures and are otherwise seeking to prevent offshore drilling off their coasts. Senator Jeff Van Drew of Cape May in New Jersey after passage of the bill he co-sponsored”The Shore Tourism and Ocean Protection from Offshore Oil and Gas Act,” comparable to the New York billemphasized: “This is a back-door way of blocking the offshore drilling that would be allowed by the federal action.”
A lawsuit has been brought joined in by nine Atlantic Coast states. “We are suing to stop this reckless plan that allows the oil and gas industry to destroy fishing families, local businesses, and marine life,” declared Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
There is resistance, too, on the Pacific Coast, along the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Alaska waters all also opened by Trump for drilling.
A coalition of environmental organization has brought a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alaska. Declared Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters: “The permanent protections President Obama established for the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans were won with years of research, lobbying and organizing. Offshore drilling and the associated threat of devastating oil spills puts coastal economies and ways of life at risk while worsening the consequences of climate change. Now, President Trump is trying to erase all the environmental progress we’ve made, and we aren’t about to go down without a fight.” Other organizations in the lawsuit include Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Wilderness Society.
There are several bills in the U.S. Congress seeking to block the Trump administration’s drilling plans. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts has vowed to pursue “all legislative tools” to block drilling.
What has changed since I got that tip from the Montauk fisherman in 1970?