Julie Pike, News Editor
A trip to the beach means a day in the sun, laying in the sand, and looking out into the never ending ocean. With the Trump administration’s recent proposal to allow offshore drilling, the people of Maine may be looking out at a big yellow oil rig two miles out in the ocean. The current plan is to open the entire coastline of the U.S. to allow offshore drilling, including the over 3,000 miles of Maine’s coastline.
The proposal includes a five year lease, beginning in 2019, and includes 90 percent of the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans surrounding the U.S. The outer continental shelf refers to the portion of the ocean directly surrounding the country that is outside of state jurisdiction.
Politicians in Maine have openly opposed the plan, including both Democratic U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, and Senators Susan Collins and Angus King. Governor Paul Lepage, however, has a different standpoint.
“We appear to have the only governor on the Atlantic seacoast that is in support of it,” said Robert Sanford, Head of the Environmental Science and Policy Department at USM.
A quote from the Washington Post by Lepage’s spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz stated that Lepage supports a balanced approach, one that places a priority on the environment and traditional industries, while also considering more jobs and lower energy costs.
In response to the public opposition that has been heard, the Portland Press Herald reported that Lepage would expect to exclude significant parts of the coastline from the plan.
Senators Collins and King reacted to the proposal by addressing a letter to the Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing their discontent.
“Maine’s economic stability – and countless Mainer’s livelihoods – has always depended on the health of the ocean,” they wrote. They also mentioned that it would greatly hurt Maine’s lobster industry, which brings in 1.7 billion dollars annually.
In an attempt to save the coastal waters from oil drilling, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives from New England, including Collins and King, proposed a bill called the New England Coastline Protection Act. This bill would ban oil and gas extraction from any of New England’s coastal states.
On Monday, Jan. 22, a public hearing was planned to take place at the Augusta Civic Center, but was postponed due to the government shutdown. At this hearing, organized by the Department of the Interior, Maine citizens would have the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns about offshore drilling.
Lisa Pohlmann, the Executive Director of Natural Resources of Maine (NRCM), the leading nonprofit environmental advocacy program in the state, had planned to be actively involved at that meeting.
“Our role is to help our citizens’, our members’ and our advocates’ voices heard in whatever public policy debate that we think has something to do with protecting the environment,” Pohlmann said. Pohlmann and her team at NRCM are encouraging their members to attend the hearing in Augusta to weigh in on their opinions.
“We want to bring public attention to the amount of discontent that there is about this outlandish proposal to drill for oil off of the Maine coast,” she stated. The Department of the Interior has not released a new date for the meeting.
Sanford, who has been teaching environmental science at USM for the past 22 years, commented on the proposal to allow offshore drilling in Maine.
“There’s two big issues here, first is that there is not much around for offshore drilling in Maine, so there would need to be more exploration,” Sanford said. “Second, is that there is no where near the infrastructure [in Maine] to extract it, process it and distribute it. It would be a huge waste of energy and a horrible inefficiency.”
Sanford stated that on the Maine coast there are no big oil deposits, so there would need to be some exploration to figure out what kind of other mineral deposits or energy sources there are. In replace of offshore drilling, he recommends looking into offshore wind turbines.
“It would be far more feasible to put in offshore wind turbines to produce energy, as well as far less expensive” he said. Although Sanford’s idea would have less environmental impacts than offshore drilling, Governor LePage has recently placed a temporary ban on new wind energy projects in Maine, as stated by the Portland Press Herald.
In order for Trump’s administration proposal to go through, Sanford stated that they would have pass the standards set by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. This policy requires federal agencies to examine the environmental effects of their proposed actions, which takes around 18 months to complete, a timeline which would not coincide with the 2019 start time.
The biggest risk factors to offshore drilling, Pohlmann stated, are the effects on offshore fisheries and the tourism industry, which relies on coastal properties.
“We think this would be a terrible danger to our tourism and fishery economy,” Pohlmann stated. “It would be terrible for our coast which we rely so much on. If you’re drilling for oil, you’re going to be spilling oil.” The NCRM is currently contacting thousands of citizens across the state to encourage them to go their website to make their comments about the proposal.
“If we don’t yell and have thousands of people responding then they will feel like they can do whatever they want,” Pohlmann said.
Aside from the political opposition, Sanford doesn’t believe offshore drilling is possible in the state of Maine.
“We don’t have the resources in Maine for oil drilling, unlike a state like Texas who has been drilling for oil for a hundred years. It works better in the southern states and in the caribbean because there are actual known deposits there, as well as the infrastructure to do it.”
For those who want to add their comments and opinion about offshore drilling in Maine, Pohlmann encourages people to visit their website at https://www.nrcm.org.