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Public Meeting to be Held on N.J. Offshore Oil Drilling

The north jetty of Barnegat Inlet at Island Beach State Park. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The north jetty of Barnegat Inlet at Island Beach State Park. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

As local and state officials line up to oppose a leasing program that would open up oil drilling off the New Jersey coast, the federal government has scheduled a public meeting on the issue.

The Trump administration has proposed opening up nearly the entire Atlantic coast of the United States to oil drilling. A similar proposal floated by the Obama administration in 2015 was quickly shot down, but with a new administration – one that observers believe is friendlier to the idea – comes the reopening of the debate.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency tasked with overseeing the leases of federal waters to oil drilling, will host a meeting Feb. 14 in Hamilton Township to discuss the proposal. At the meetings, participants will be able to ask questions, share information, talk with BOEM team members one-on-one, and learn more about the national drilling proposal, an announcement from the agency said.

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Since the administration announced the drilling plan, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, was able to convince officials to bar drilling activity off its coast. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said last week that Florida’s coast was “unique” and “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

New Jersey officials are hoping they can have the same influence. The Ocean County freeholder board voted this week to pass a resolution opposing drilling. Rep. Tom MacArthur, as well as many local municipal councils, have followed with opposition.

“I have been, and remain opposed to oil drilling off the New Jersey coast because of the potential threat to the environment and the Jersey Shore’s tourism and fishing industries,” said MacArthur, who is planning discussions with Zinke.

Protecting the Jersey Shore from negative environmental impacts has paid off, with tourism revenue growing exponentially since offshore dumping was eliminated, largely closing the book on incidents of waste washing up on shore.

“We started this going back over 40 years ago when New York City was dumping into the waterways,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joe Vicari. “We are protecting not only tourism but our natural resources. In New Jersey, most of the coastline is in Ocean County.”

If the drilling plan were to be approved, leases for waters in the sector off the New Jersey coast would be awarded in 2021 and 2023. No drilling has taken place off New Jersey since 1983, and even that activity was exploratory in nature, environmentalists have said, offering up images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to bolster their case against expanded drilling.

The public meeting will be held Feb. 14 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 800 US Highway 130, Hamilton, NJ 08690.

“I genuinely believe that we can work together to protect our environment and our shore economy from the dangers posed by drilling for oil off New Jersey’s coast,” MacArthur said.