Fossil Fuels photo

The Obama Administration released a revised draft of a plan outlining the offshore oil and gas leases that could be offered over the next five years.

The Oil and Gas Program is now open to public comment for 90 days before it gets the final stamp of approval. This plan maps out how and where the federal government will lease areas of the ocean to energy companies for a five year period, in this case from 2017 to 2022. It’s pretty standard, with one surprise: in the draft version released last year, the Department of the Interior had suggested leasing areas of the Atlantic seaboard to offshore drilling, but the current proposal strikes that down entirely.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Environmentalists are calling this a huge victory.

“Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the new test of climate leadership,” May Boeve, executive director of the environmental group said in a statement. “The Atlantic victory is a reminder that when we fight, we win. Communities across the country are rising up against the fossil fuel industry and demanding bold climate action. That’s a movement that will only continue to grow over the coming months and into the next Presidency. There’s much more work to get done.”

To be sure, there are environmental concerns about drilling for fossil fuels and there was a concerted effort by activists to stop the plan. But other groups worried that opening the area to drilling would cut into tourism along the southeast coast, destroying views, and generally making life difficult. Other industries, like commercial fishing operations and shipping companies were also concerned about adding another industry to the mix on a crowded seaboard, and the Department of Defense released a partially redacted report opposing opening areas of the Atlantic to offshore drilling.

There are three other areas mentioned in the plan. No leases will be made available on the Pacific coast due to the continued opposition of California, Oregon, and Washington. In the Gulf of Mexico, where most of the offshore drilling in the United States occurs, business will go on as usual. In the Arctic, things are a bit more complicated. There are three locations off Alaska where the government could lease areas of the sea to oil companies, but the Interior is trying to assess the viability of those sites and how local communities feel about the leases.

“We know the Arctic is a unique place of critical importance to many – including Alaska Natives who rely on the ocean for subsistence,”Jewell said. “As we put together the final proposal, we want to hear from the public to help determine whether these areas are appropriate for future leasing and how we can protect environmental, cultural and subsistence resources.”

Of course, allowing oil companies to lease sites doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Last year, Shell shut down exploratory wells in Alaskan waters after they failed to turn up a significant amount of oil.