OCEAN CITY — Environmental activists and state and local officials along the South Jersey coast stood together Monday morning to denounce offshore drilling in state waters.
About 30 officials and environmental activists held a news conference on the Boardwalk, ocean waves crashing behind them, to denounce the Trump administration plan announced in January that would open offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Maine, as well as off California and in the Arctic.
Officials from different counties and across party lines have expressed strong opposition to the plan and have voiced the importance of stopping it, citing a threat to billions of dollars in the tourism and fishing industries.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, a longtime opponent of drilling off New Jersey, has said the proposal threatens the economy and environment. He said Monday it’s important for state legislators, chambers of commerce, elected officials and residents to make sure Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke understand how they feel about the plan.
“There’s a lot at stake here,” LoBiondo said. “This is a huge gamble and a huge risk.”
Cindy Zipf, of Clean Ocean Action, urged the crowd to speak out against the plan. She said the duty of residents in the area is to protect the ocean and keep drilling away from the coast.
“The ocean is unbelievably giving,” she said, citing fishing, tourism and recreation. “It even provides the very oxygen that we breathe, and it does all of that for free.”
If the plan moves forward, an oil spill is imminent and would threaten every community along the coast, risking safety, jobs and the economy, said Margot Walsh, of the Jersey Shore Partnership.
“We are not talking about if there would be an oil spill — we are talking about when,” she said. “These shore towns are among the jewels of New Jersey, but they are the first to be impacted by an oil spill.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a public meeting on the proposal Feb. 14 near Trenton and drew a large group of opponents.
The fight against offshore oil and gas expansion has been going on for decades, said Cape May County Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton. The plan could threaten a $6.3 billion tourism business in Cape May, plus a large fishing industry.
“Oil and sand don’t mix, oil and tourism don’t mix. … It’s because water and oil don’t mix,” Thornton said.
Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica also spoke in opposition to the plan Monday.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said if there were to be an oil spill or a problem, “we would never truly recover.”
“This absolutely does not belong here,” he said. “Everything about this process should not occur along the Atlantic Coast.”