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Trump off-shore drilling initiative gets cool response from NH protesters

State House Bureau

March 05. 2018 9:13PM
Protesters opposed to President Trump's offshore oil and gas exploration initiative lined the sidewalk in front of the Concord Holiday Inn on Monday as federal officials held an information session on the proposal. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

Allison Stork, right, from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, discuses President Trump's proposal to expand off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas during an information session Monday in Concord. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)

CONCORD — Janet Ward of Contoocook wasn’t mincing any words as she made her point to Casey Rowe, one of 18 employees from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management visiting the state capital on Monday for a public meeting on President Trump’s plan to expand offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

“Our government is not discharging its fiduciary responsibility by advocating this,” she said.

“Our agency isn’t just looking at offshore oil and gas,” Rowe replied. “We also have an offshore program that encourages renewables like wind farms as well.”

The public meeting hosted by federal officials at the Holiday Inn was designed as a chance for New Hampshire residents to comment on the “Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program,” but became more of an opportunity for opponents to protest the idea, especially as it relates to the Granite State coastline.

The science-fair like event offered attendees a chance to speak with BOEM officials but not as a group. There was no public meeting in a Q&A format.

Instead, attendees moved through eight different stations, including an informational video, an explanation of the way potential sites are identified, and the environmental protection and safety plans that would come into play.

President Trump signed an executive order in April 2017 calling for expansion of offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic coastlines, and in marine sanctuaries in the Pacific and Atlantic, calling it the “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The proposed drilling plan unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in January would expand offshore drilling in public waters, including new areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic, and auction off areas that were permanently protected under the Obama administration.

Gov. Chris Sununu opposes any drilling off the coast of New Hampshire, and after a Jan. 31 meeting in Washington, D.C., with Zinke, he told reporters the New Hampshire coast and entire Gulf of Maine are considered “low-target areas” not likely to be tapped.

A bill to prohibit oil and gas drilling off the New England coast has been introduced in Congress by a bipartisan coalition of New England lawmakers. The New England Coastline Protection Act would prohibit oil and gas drilling off New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island coastlines.

State representatives from both inland and seacoast communities stated their opposition in a news conference at the State House on Monday morning, timed to coincide with the BOEM event. Protesters lined the sidewalk outside the Holiday Inn as the event got underway around 3 p.m..

“The effort to sell off New Hampshire’s coastline to the oil and gas industry is a threat to our coastal economies, wildlife, our climate and our communities,” said Catherine Corkery, senior organizing representative and a director of the N.H. Sierra Club.

“Put simply, offshore drilling is a bad idea in Alaska; it’s a bad idea in Florida; and it’s a bad idea in New Hampshire. We’re here today to send a message to the Trump administration: No offshore drilling anywhere.”

In January, Trump tweeted he would exempt Florida at the request of Gov. Rick Scott. “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” he tweeted. “As a result ... I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

When asked if New Hampshire deserves similar consideration for the same reasons, Renee Orr, senior BOEM executive at the event, said all coastal regions are still on the table for development of a proposed five-year plan, which itself will be subject to further public review.

“He (Trump) tweeted that, but we are following the law,” she said. “The official decision will be in the proposed program at the end of the year.”

The BOEM is accepting comments until March 9 at, or by mail to Ms. Kelly Hammerle, National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program Manager, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 45600 Woodland Road, Sterling, VA 20166-9216.

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