Markey: Draft plan will spur 'huge fight' over offshore energy drilling

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BOSTON
— The state's environment, tourism and fishing industry could be threatened by President Donald Trump's plan to open up more coastal areas to offshore drilling, according to Sen. Ed Markey, who said the proposal puts "nearly every single mile of coastline in the United States in the crosshairs of an oil spill."

"Nothing is sacred," Markey told reporters from the Kennedy Federal Building. "All of the United States is going to be open for the oil industry to be able to drill. That is something that the American people will want to have resolved on the floor of the House and Senate, and that is something that I am going to guarantee him that he will see. This is going to be a huge fight across our country."

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday announced a proposal that would make more than 90 percent of the national outer continental shelf available for oil and gas exploration -- currently, 94 percent of federal offshore acreage is off-limits, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

The 380-page draft plan includes a note that Gov. Charlie Baker does not "support inclusion of areas adjacent to Massachusetts," and Attorney General Maura Healey "strongly opposes opening up any of the Atlantic or any other new areas to oil and gas leasing."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates there are 89.9 billion barrels of oil and 327.5 trillion cubic feet of gas that have yet to be discovered on the outer continental shelf, including 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 38.2 cubic feet in the Atlantic portion of the shelf.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, Atlantic oil and natural gas development could deliver $51 billion in new government revenue, nearly 280,000 jobs and 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent per day for domestic energy production by 2035.

"Eighty percent of U.S. voters support increased domestic oil and natural gas production," said Erik Milito, the institute's upstream director, in a statement.

"The administration's new offshore leasing plan will give our nation the ability to access our vital energy resources to help meet growing domestic and global demand while helping to supply affordable energy for consumers, manufacturers and businesses."

Markey said the proposal could turn the waters off Massachusetts and other coastal states "into a fossil fuel free-for-all," but that he did not know exact amount of oil anticipated to be off New England.

"Many in the oil industry have always believed it could be a fertile territory for their drilling activities, but it would not have been, I think, opened unless the oil industry thought that there was, in fact, opportunities for them to be able to drill," he said.

Last April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order establishing it as policy "to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf, in order to maintain the Nation's position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible."

The draft program includes 47 potential lease sales — 19 of which are off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico — and the Department of the Interior said inclusion of an area in the draft does not mean it will end up in the final version or offered in a lease sale.

There are no existing leases in the Atlantic Region, according to the department, and no sales there since 1983. The draft proposes nine: three in the mid-Atlantic, three in the south Atlantic, two for the north Atlantic and one for the Straits of Florida.

Environment Massachusetts said last week the area proposed to be opened up "could include Georges Bank, a wildlife rich region of the North Atlantic near Massachusetts." The group urged people to speak up against the proposal, which will be subject to public comment as it moves through the approval process.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to hold 23 public meetings on the draft plan, including one at the Hyatt Regency Boston on Jan. 24.

In statements issued Friday, U.S. Reps. William Keating and Richard Neal cited bipartisan efforts to oppose the plan.

"Allowing this drilling threatens the safety of our waterfront communities, the health of our oceans, and the future of our climate — not to mention the havoc it could wreak on the local economies of coastal communities, like those across New England, who count on fresh fish and clean beaches for their seafood and tourism industries," said Keating, whose coastal district covers the Cape and Islands, South Coast and South Shore.

Massachusetts officials have been speaking out against potential offshore drilling since the idea was in its earlier stages last year.

"As [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] initiates development of a new Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and considers potential seismic studies, the Commonwealth does not support the inclusion of areas of the North Atlantic adjacent to or affecting Massachusetts," Baker wrote in a June 2017 letter to Zinke. "For more than three decades, the exploration or leasing for oil and gas in the North Atlantic has not been justified, and we believe this holds true today more than ever."

Healey filed comments with the bureau last August, arguing a potential oil spill could bring "grave risks to our Commonwealth's vitally important maritime economy" and "potentially devastating effects to our marine environment and fragile ecosystem" that outweigh any benefits of opening up more coastal areas to drilling.

Exploration or extraction of oil and gas could hinder recovery of endangered or threatened species like the piping plover, Healey wrote. She said a spill could devastate a commercial fishing industry that generated $7.3 billion in seafood sales, and a tourism and recreation sector that supported more than 70,600 jobs in 2015.

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