On March 29, Judge Gleason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska overturned President Trump’s push to open up 128 million acres in Arctic and Atlantic waters to oil and gas drilling.

These federal waters were withdrawn from lease sales in 2015 and 2016, making them off-limits to oil and gas exploration until Executive Order 13795 was signed in 2017. As brought forth in a legal challenge by the League of Conservation Voters et al., Section 5 of the executive order was declared unlawful and invalid. As a result, these waters will no longer be open to drilling unless and until revoked by Congress. The decision is available here.

While this ruling is critical for the protection of irreplaceable habitat in Arctic and Atlantic waters, it does not diminish the threat of drilling along the North Carolina coast. Within the Atlantic, this decision only excludes lease sales for blocks located within specific canyons running from New England to the Chesapeake Bay. These canyons are widely recognized as hotspots of biodiversity and are ecologically and economically valuable for fisheries.1

This means that oil and gas drilling could still occur off of the North Carolina coast. The final 2019 – 2024 National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program is currently being developed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and could include planning areas along the Atlantic.

Take action now and call your state and federal representatives to express concerns about the detrimental impacts offshore oil and gas exploration and seismic surveying would have if permitted along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Learn more at nccoast.org/oil.

As a reminder, BOEM released the Draft Proposed National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program in January 2018 that included more than 90% of the U.S. waters for oil and gas exploration.  The release of the Draft Proposed Program initiated a 60-day public comment period that generated over 2 million comments.  These comments were reviewed by BOEM and incorporated into the Proposed Program and Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which is anticipated to be publicly released in the coming weeks.

The federation along with partner organizations associated with the Don’t Drill NC coalition plan to hold response rallies within 48 hours of the public release of the Proposed Program to demonstrate opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic coast. Sign-up to receive text alerts for rallies being hosted in the following locations:

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The public release of the Proposed Program will initiate a 90-day comment period.  During that time BOEM will conduct a series of open houses to disseminate information about the Proposed Program and provide an opportunity for the public to talk with agency staff and submit comments.  There is reason to believe that the Mid-Atlantic Planning Area, which includes the federal waters off the coast of North Carolina, will be included in the Proposed Program since BOEM has scheduled open houses in Kill Devil Hills on May 14 and Morehead City on May 15.

1 Department of Interior. Fact Sheet: Unique Atlantic Canyons Protected from Oil and Gas Activity. Available here.