New Jersey votes to ban offshore oil and gas drilling

The move comes as the Trump administration looks to open almost all federal waters to oil and gas drilling.

Lawmakers in New Jersey have passed a ban on offshore drilling in state waters in response to the Trump administration's push to open coastal waters to oil and gas. (CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images)
Lawmakers in New Jersey have passed a ban on offshore drilling in state waters in response to the Trump administration's push to open coastal waters to oil and gas. (CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, in response to the Trump administration’s recent push to open up nearly all federal waters to offshore drilling, legislators in New Jersey unanimously passed a bill banning offshore oil and gas development in state waters. The bill also bans infrastructure in state waters that would support drilling in federal waters off the state’s coast.

The bill now goes to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s (D) desk for his signature. Murphy, who has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s plans to open the North Atlantic to oil and gas development, is expected to sign the bill into law.

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While states can’t prohibit the federal government from opening up federal waters to oil and gas development, it can control the kind of industry and infrastructure allowed in state waters. State waters run several miles out from the coast (anywhere from three to nine nautical miles, depending), and federal waters extend roughly 200 nautical miles from the end of state waters.

Prohibiting infrastructure needed for drilling in federal waters means that companies couldn’t build things like pipelines or docking facilities in state waters, which would complicate efforts to extract oil and gas from federal waters offshore. Without being able to rely on infrastructure in state waters, oil and gas companies would have to utilize massive floating storage stations and transfer the oil directly onto ships for market — equipment and steps that are expensive, especially at a time when the price of oil is relatively low.

“Not only would it prohibit drilling in state waters but also stop them from bringing in oil drilled in federal waters into our state,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel told The Press of Atlantic City. “It will also help fight pipelines from cutting through the state by preventing oil from landing on our coasts.”

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Beyond prohibiting oil and gas drilling and infrastructure in state waters, the bill would also require the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to review any plans for development off the Atlantic coast, even if that development were to take place in federal waters.

If the department found that the development could impact New Jersey state waters, it would be compelled to conduct a consistency review. Under the Coastal Zonal Management Act, states can review offshore oil and gas exploration to make sure that it’s consistent with state objectives. If a state finds a particular activity inconsistent with its policies, it can serve as a major blockade for the federal government opening up offshore waters to private oil and gas development.

New Jersey is hardly the only state to begin putting its opposition towards the Trump administration’s offshore oil and gas plan into action. California — which already bans offshore drilling in state waters — has pledged to make use of consistency reviews if the Trump administration tries to push through offshore drilling in the state. The state legislature is also considering a bill that would ban supporting infrastructure in state waters.

The Trump administration’s proposed five-year offshore lease plan — which would open up 90 percent of the nation’s offshore areas to oil and gas leasing — has run into staunch opposition nearly everywhere, from both Democrats and Republicans. Only one governor whose state would see its waters open to oil and gas extraction under the plan — Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage (R) — has not voiced opposition to the plan.

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The public comment period for the proposed plan closed in mid-March. The Department of Interior is now reviewing comments, and will submit a final plan describing proposed areas for offshore oil and gas leasing sometime in early 2019.