N.J. sends drilling ban to governor’s desk

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2018

New Jersey’s Senate unanimously voted yesterday to ban offshore oil and gas exploration and development that could affect state waters, putting the state at the forefront of opposition to a Trump administration push to open up new offshore areas for drilling.

The bill would bar the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection from approving permits or drawing up plans for offshore development, both within and outside state waters. The agency would also be required to review any plans for development off the Atlantic coast.

If the DEP were to conclude that state waters could be affected by offshore drilling along other parts of the Atlantic coastline, it would have to advise the governor and conduct a consistency review — an action that, under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, can give states the upper hand over federal lease policies.

“There isn’t a magic line in the water that prevents an oil spill from moving from one area in the ocean to another area,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democratic sponsor of the bill whose district encompasses tourism-dependent coastal counties along the state’s southern tip.

A state review, added Van Drew, could apply to drilling plans in an adjacent lease area that includes North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, as well as to plans slated for the North Atlantic area.

“We’re particularly concerned about our North Atlantic area right now,” he said. “The answer for our area is no, no, no. We just don’t want it.”

Oil and natural gas pipelines that run through New Jersey waters and support facilities located on state land would also be off-limits for approval.

The Legislature’s vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who has twice signed his name to letters asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to exclude the state from expansion plans.

Opposition to Interior’s offshore drilling plans has been a matter of bipartisan consensus in New Jersey. One of those two appeals to Zinke, for example, also had former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, as a signatory.

Similar prohibitions on offshore drilling or infrastructure are working their way through legislatures in several other states, including California, New York, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

Cornelia Horner, a spokeswoman from the American Petroleum Institute, said the process of opening new offshore tracts is at its “very early” stages, adding that it is “premature to consider holding New Jersey back from the tremendous economic and national security benefits that could flow from future oil and natural gas exploration and development.”