Environmentalists call for halt to NJ offshore drilling

“Madness” and “ridiculous” were words used at Wednesday’s news conference on the Asbury Park Boardwalk.

Last month, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed opening up 90 percent of America’s coastline for offshore oil and gas drilling, including the Atlantic.

Environmentalists and Jersey Shore stakeholders have been fighting that idea for years.

“To consistently have these meetings and these press conferences about this subject is totally asinine and insane,” said Asbury Park Mayor John Moor.

The fear is of an oil spill, like the Deepwater Horizon disaster that fouled the Gulf of Mexico. New Jersey’s shore is an economic powerhouse that might not withstand a comparable accident.

“You want to try and drill for oil out there? We are going to fight you. We are going fight you and we are going to stop you,” said Bradley Beach Councilman John Weber.

The entire New Jersey congressional delegation has written to Zinke protesting the move. Representatives of Democrat Frank Pallone and Republican Chris Smith lent their voices Wednesday.

“An oil spill off the coast of New Jersey, even a minor one, could wash ashore and wreak havoc on our beaches, wildlife, local residents and businesses, which rely upon beach tourism,” said Jo Schloeder, district director for Rep. Chris Smith.

Sen. Bob Menendez took to the Senate floor Tuesday to register his protest.

“The Interior Department reportedly seeks to weaken the well-controlled rule, the critical safety standards put in place after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which taught us something — if you drill, you will spill,” said Menendez.

The Interior secretary recently exempted the state of Florida.

“I’m happy if that’s what’s going to happen for Florida, but guess what? If it’s good enough for Mar-a-Lago, it certainly should be good enough for the Jersey Shore,” said Menendez.

There is no known oil off the Jersey Shore. The New Jersey Petroleum Council says there is a large natural gas deposit 100 miles out.

New Jersey Petroleum Council Executive Director Jim Benton said, “We are advocates for increasing our energy supply. That’s what we do. We think offshore development plays a critical in our national energy security. It can be done safely and coexist with tourism and fishing.”

But the Trump administration plan allows drilling just 3 miles offshore and the advocates say that close in is threatening.

“It’s allowing big oil to come three miles, three miles to our coastline,” said Doug O’Malley, state director for Environment New Jersey.

“We’re going to send a very loud message to that fossil fool in the White House, hands off New Jersey beaches, hands off our economy. Make sure that when we come here, that the only oil we have to worry about here is olive oil,” said Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey Sierra Club.

As Tittel pointed out, this battle over offshore oil has been going on for 45 years. It’ll play out one more time at a public hearing next week in Hamilton Township.

“We’re here to argue and unite all New Jerseyans to come out for the public meeting that’s being held on Feb. 14. It is Valentine’s Day, but it’s between 3 and 7 p.m. It’s also declared Ocean Emotion Day,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.

Wednesday had emotion, too.