By Liz Pulver and Joseph Konig
Nearly 30 environmentalists and 11 public officials in Smithtown spoke in opposition to the Trump administration proposal to drill for oil off of Long Island’s coast at a hearing on Feb. 14.
Lead by New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, over 40 elected officials, scientists, and environmental advocates offered more than five hours of testimonies on the economic and environmental damage offshore drilling can cause, even in its earliest stages. At the beginning of the hearing, members of the assembly announced a bill they introduced on Feb. 13 aimed at preventing coastal drilling in state owned waters.
“The Atlantic outer continental shelf is not an appropriate area for offshore drilling. Period,” Englebright said. “The risks associated with drilling, including oil spills, far out way any potential benefits. Especially since the state is currently working to advance renewable energy projects on our continental shelf area rather than climate change inducing fossil fuel oriented projects such as the drilling.”
The hearing was organized by Englebright and fellow members of the State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, Anthony D’Urso, Fred Thiele and Christine Pellegrino.
“These new leases for offshore drilling are a great threat to our majestic coastline, commercial and recreational fisheries, our local economy, and our environment as a whole,” Pellegrino said. “Offshore drilling requires massive infrastructure in land, roads, pipelines, storage tanks, processing facilities. Are we willing to industrialize our pristine coastline?”
Scientists, like marine biologist Rob DiGiovanni of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, testified about the damage animals and habitats would suffer from offshore drilling.
“We can all talk about this catastrophic oil spill, but its the day-to-day impacts,” DiGiovanni said. “Even without exploration… we have had animals with oil on them. As we increase the pressures, the issues will increase. There’s no way around that.”
Other speakers explained how the pre-drilling exploration process could have a harmful impact. Jared Snyder, a deputy commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was one of two state employees dispatched by the Cuomo administration to represent the governor’s perspective.
“The seismic surveys required for oil and gas exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day, for weeks to months at a time,” Snyder said. “This low frequency, high energy sound is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off Long Island.”
While the testimonies pushed back against the Trump administration program, the existence of the forum was a protest in itself.
“We’re having this hearing today in part because the federal government chose not to have this hearing here on Long Island or in coastal New York, but instead chose to locate the hearing in Albany,” Englebright said at the outset. “We wanted to provide a forum for people who, unlike ourselves, don’t have to go to Albany and probably don’t want to.”
To receive public comment on the proposal, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management scheduled a series of hearings until March 9, including in Albany on Feb. 15. Englebright and his colleagues were a few of the many Long Island politicians who called for the federal government to come to the area in the state that will be most affected by the proposal.
After both hearings took place, Congressman Lee Zeldin announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke assured him the BOEM would come to Long Island for public comment. And if the Smithtown hearing was any kind of preview, the Long Island public has quite a few comments for the federal government.