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POLITICS: PennAve

This GOP governor wants to halt offshore oil and gas exploration

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Politics,Interior,Climate Change,Chris Christie,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman,Sally Jewell,Fishing,Offshore Drilling,Conservation

Three West Coast Democratic governors came out against offshore drilling this week, but it's a Republican governor's moves on the Atlantic Ocean that have drawn some attention.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Department of Environmental Protection went to court earlier this month to block a federally funded oil and gas exploration project that uses seismic airgun testing off the Atlantic coast, saying it could harm the state's fishing and tourism industries. A district court judge rejected the motion, but the Christie administration is appealing the ruling.

In fact, Christie's opposition to seismic airguns — which blast sonic booms from boats down to the ocean floor to survey for oil and gas deposits — uses the same arguments environmentalists and his Left Coast gubernatorial brethren Jerry Brown of California, John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington pose.

“This ruling is very disappointing to the administration, and could have a negative impact on the ocean and its wildlife,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said after the district court ruling. His agency said a Rutgers University study funded by the National Science Foundation using seismic airguns "will likely have a detrimental effect on New Jersey’s fisheries and marine mammals," adding it could harm the state's commercial and recreational fishing, with its $40 billion tourism industry.

The Christie administration said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "acted improperly" in denying a request to assess the effect on fisheries, and thus went to the courts to block the study.

The stance is a rare one for a GOP governor to take — especially one who might have presidential ambitions — given that seismic airgun testing is a prelude to eventual drilling. The Obama administration is expected allow production in the Atlantic for the first time in decades in its next five-year drilling plan, which it is drafting.

Compare the Christie administration's wording with the letter Brown, Kitzhaber and Inslee mailed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday: "While new technology reduces the risk of a catastrophic event such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, a sizeable spill anywhere along our shared coast would have a devastating impact on our population, recreation, natural resources and our ocean and coastal dependent economies."

The Interior Department appears poised to push ahead on Atlantic drilling, which is off limits through 2017 under the Obama administration's five-year drilling plan.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last month approved a limited run of Atlantic seismic airgun testing stretching from the Delaware Bay to Cape Canaveral, Fla. Several companies already have applied for permits to perform those surveys, acting director Walter Cruickshank said.

The oil and gas industry praised the move, though it questioned whether some reporting requirements and limits on conduction simultaneous tests in the same area were necessary.

Environmental groups slammed the decision, saying it would lock in oil and gas production and consumption that contribute to climate change. They also said it would threaten aquatic life and a tourism and fishing industry that brings in $11.8 billion annually, according to ocean conservation group Oceana.

Sound familiar?

"We must take no chances when it comes to protecting our ocean resources, our commercial and recreational fishing, and our state’s $40 billion tourism economy," said Martin, the New Jersey environmental chief. "A healthy ocean is vital to our residents, our visitors, and our businesses."

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