Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Challenged By Lawsuits and Bankruptcies

Photo: Jim Evans, Wiki Creative Commons

One thing Democrats and Republicans in many southern states seem to agree on is that they don’t want oil and gas drilling off their coastlines.  The Hill reported that last week the State of North Carolina sued the federal government for its continuing to prepare for offshore leasing in the Atlantic just off their coast.  And in Florida, while President Trump has promised that he will not pursue oil and gas drilling there, even outgoing Republican Congressman Francis Rooney is worried about the President going back on his word if he is re-elected.  Congressman Rooney told the Tampa Bay Times that “Democrats get it,” while “Republicans are really embedded with the energy industry.”  Meanwhile, some of the largest offshore drilling companies are going under — the latest is Valaris — because they are drowning in debt.  

Why This Matters:  The President’s fossil fuel commitments are hard to deny, even as he promises Florida a reprieve.  In 2022, the law creating an offshore drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the coast of Florida expires, and many are concerned that Congress will not renew it.  Thus, Florida oil and gas drilling is a very real possibility unless Biden, who promised no new drilling in the ocean, is elected.

North Carolina’s Objection

North Carolina sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because in June the agency permitted an oil and gas exploration company to begin seismic testing in the Atlantic.  The state had formally objected to the testing, which uses blasts from air guns to try to detect oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor, but the Trump Administration overruled the state saying the exploration was in the federal interest.  Interestingly, the proponents of offshore wind power might make the same argument with respect to states’ objections due to the alleged impacts on fishing businesses.  North Carolina argued that seismic testing would interfere with fishing and would cause harm to the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

“Protecting our state’s beautiful natural resources — and the critical economic benefits they bring to our state — is one of the most important mandates of my job,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) said in a statement. “North Carolinians have made their views crystal clear: We do not want drilling off our coast.”

Florida’s Concerns

The entire state of Florida opposes offshore drilling near its coastline — all the members of Congress plus the governor have asked President Trump to forego leasing there because they see it as a threat to tourism and military operations.  And while the President made a promise — he never formally acted on it so many in the state are concerned he could go back on his word after the election.  Meanwhile, Congressman Rooney, who sponsored a bill that passed the House to make the new drilling ban off Florida permanent, is more confident that Biden would ensure drilling never happened there.  The Senate refused to act on Rooney’s bill creating a permanent ban on drilling there, but he is certain that “If the president wanted that to happen, it would happen.”

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