New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed an offshore drilling ban that aims to protect New Jersey’s shorelines, as well as the tourism industry that depends on it. The legislation was prompted by the Trump Administration’s plan to open much of the East Coast for oil exploration.

2019-2024 National OCS Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program

Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced its proposed five-year offshore drilling plan. In a major policy shift, the plan would open almost the entire offshore area of the United States to oil and gas drilling.

As detailed in greater detail in a prior article, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is tasked with implementing the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for oil and gas development in accordance with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCS Lands Act). The National OCS Program establishes a five-year schedule of oil and gas lease sales proposed for the U.S. OCS, which includes all submerged lands lying seaward of state coastal waters (3 miles offshore) under U.S. jurisdiction. The National OCS Program also outlines the size, timing, and location of potential leasing activity that the Secretary of the Interior determines will best meet national energy needs for the five-year period under consideration.

Under the proposed 2019-2024 National OCS Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program, more than 98 percent of the OCS would be available for oil and gas leasing during the 2019–2024 period. In support of its proposal, the BOEM stated: “Including at this stage nearly the entire OCS for potential oil and gas discovery is consistent with advancing the goal of moving the United States from simply aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance.” The plan specifically includes 9 lease sales in the Atlantic Region (3 sales each for the Mid- and South Atlantic, 2 for the North Atlantic, and 1 for the Straits of Florida).

New Jersey Offshore Drilling Ban Under Assembly Bill 839

The new law, Assembly Bill 839, bans offshore oil or natural gas exploration, development, and production in New Jersey waters. It further prohibits the leasing of tidal or submerged lands in State waters for the purposes of oil or natural gas exploration, development, or production.

New Jersey’s offshore drilling ban also prohibits the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from issuing any permits and approvals for any development associated with offshore drilling in State waters or outside State waters. It similarly bans the DEP from permitting, approving, or otherwise authorizing any oil or natural gas exploration, development, or production in State waters, and from developing, adopting, or endorsing any plans for the exploration, development, or production of oil and natural gas in State waters. Under the statute, the term “development” means, but is not necessarily limited to, any pipeline or other infrastructure that transports oil or natural gas from production facilities located in federal waters or other coastal state waters in the Atlantic Ocean through New Jersey State waters, and any land-based support facilities for offshore oil or natural gas production facilities located in the Atlantic Ocean.

AB 839 also mandates that the DEP review any proposed oil or natural gas lease, license, permit, or plan for exploration, development, or production of oil and natural gas in the Atlantic region of the U.S. exclusive economic zone to determine if the proposal can reasonably be expected to affect State waters, particularly in terms of proximity to State waters or to the Gulf Stream south of State waters. If such a review results in an affirmative finding, the DEP Commissioner must then notify the Governor and take all actions necessary to initiate a consistency review under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.

Proponents of the offshore drilling ban maintain that opening the Atlantic Ocean for offshore drilling could cause significant damage to the state’s 130-mile shoreline, which supports the State’s $44 billion per year tourism industry. In addition to economic harm, offshore drilling would pose serious environmental risks to the state’s beaches, fisheries, and marine life along the coast.

AB 839 passed by a 37-0 vote in the Senate and a 72-1 vote in the Assembly. Gov. Murphy signed it into law on April 20, 2018. “Offshore drilling would be a disaster for our environment, our economy, and our coastal communities,” Gov. Murphy said. “The bipartisan legislation I am signing into law, on the eighth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Spill, will block oil companies from drilling in state waters. We simply cannot allow the danger of drilling off our coast. The societal, economic and environmental costs would be detrimental to the overall quality of life for our residents.”

If you have any questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.