Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hosted the meeting at the Atlantic City Convention Center to gather information and public comment. Findings from the public meetings will shape a decision by the Obama administration on whether to grant five-year leases on the outer continental shelf to energy companies.
Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, told the hearing that he supports renewable energy generation for the state. "We must aggressively pursue cleaner energies which are sustainable and produce no greenhouse gas emissions. After witnessing the success of the Atlantic County Utility Authority's existing wind turbines, I strongly believe the State of New Jersey has taken a step in the right direction with its advocacy of wind farm projects off of our shores."
"As a life long resident," said LoBiondo, "I remain opposed to any proposal that would authorize drilling off New Jersey's coast." The congressman announced that he would again introduce legislation this Congress to prevent oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of New Jersey. LoBiondo has introduced similar legislation each Congress for the past 10 years.
"We don't want oil rigs along the coast and we can't accept the risk of oil spills in the ocean tides or on our beaches," said Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat.
Matt Elliott of the statewide nonprofit group Environment New Jersey told the hearing, "President Obama's offshore energy decisions will be with us for decades to come. Our Shore can help power our state with off-shore wind or we can give it away to oil companies to drill with abandon. A clean energy future for the Shore should include wind turbines, not oil spills."
"Our reliance on fossil fuel is directly linked to the economic, foreign and environmental crises surrounding us," testified David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "It's critical that the Obama administration just say no to off-shore fossil fuel and yes to renewables done right on and off-shore."
"Offshore wind is New Jersey's largest source of renewable energy," Kris Ohleth of BlueWater Wind, one of the state's three wind developers, told the hearing. "Harnessing that energy will bring clean power to the state, as well as jobs and economic development. We applaud the state's efforts to pursue offshore wind energy development, making New Jersey a leader in the new green economy."
In October, Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, introduced an Energy Master Plan for the state, including a strategy to harness offshore energy resources. The plan sets a goal for the state to have 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind constructed off of the New Jersey coast by 2020, and 1,000 megawatts by the end of 2012.
The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm (Photo NJ Board of Public Utilities)
While Secretary Salazar was in Atlantic City for the hearing, the governor took him on a tour of the the state's first wind facility, which is visible from downtown Atlantic City. The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, with its five 380-foot high turbines, powers approximately 2,500 homes.
During the morning energy development conference, Governor Corzine urged Washington to put in place policies similar to what states like New Jersey have done in order to put the country on a path to responsible energy practices.
"Full cooperation between the states, federal agencies and wind developers is necessary to achieve renewable energy goals that are important to combat climate change and providing a clean, sustainable source of electricity. This ultimately will enhance energy security for the region and the United States," he said.
The governor said, "The resources provided by the Outer Continental Shelf should be viewed as a haven for wind energy, which is clean, renewable, environmentally-friendly, and will serve residents for generations."
This morning, Chairman Frank Smizik of the Massachusetts House of Representatives announced that 78 Members of the Massachusetts House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, have signed a letter urging Interior Secretary Salazar to approve the Cape Wind offshore wind farm for Nantucket Sound as soon as possible.
Cape Wind Communications Director Mark Rodgers notified Secretary Salazar of this letter during the public meeting and submitted the original copy of the sign-on letter to a member of Salazar's staff.
American Petroleum Institute Manager of Exploration and Production Tim Sampson told the hearing, "All areas of the Outer Continental Shelf should be open for oil and natural gas development."
Sampson represents nearly 400 API member companies involved in oil and natural gas exploration and production, refining, marketing and transportation, as well as the service companies that support the industry.
"The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that, even with significant gains in renewable energy, oil and natural gas will continue to provide more than half of the nation's energy for decades to come," said Sampson. "We need to act now to increase access to domestic oil and natural gas resources to meet our current and future energy needs."
Sampson pointed out that in 2008 alone, the U.S. government collected and distributed nearly $22 billion from onshore and offshore oil and gas production.
A recent study by the consulting firm ICF International found that developing off-limits areas of the Outer Continental Shelf "could generate $1.3 trillion in revenues for local, state and federal governments – and, if you include off-limits areas onshore, the revenue estimate jumps to $1.7 trillion," Sampson said. The study found that 160,000 jobs could be generated in 2030.
Sampson tried to assure oppponents of off-shore oil and gas drilling that the industry would not necessarily cause oil spills.
The U.S. oil and natural gas industry has an outstanding offshore environmental record that proves how offshore drilling can coexist with clean oceans and clean coasts," he said. "The U.S. Outer Continental Shelf produces more than one million barrels of oil per day. Since 1980, less than one-thousandth of a percent of that oil has been spilled - which is insignificant compared with the volumes from natural seeps."
Salazar said the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on geological and geophysical activities in the mid-Atlantic region.
Current estimates of "undiscovered" oil resources range from 1.1 to 7.6 billion barrels and "undiscovered" gas resources range from 14.3 to 66.5 trillion cubic feet.
Secretary Salazar will host a second meeting Wednesday, April 8 in New Orleans at Tulane University's McAlister Auditorium at 9 a.m. and will be carried live by webcast.
Two other public comment meetings on Outer Continental Shelf energy development will be held at the Dena'ina Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 14; and at the University of California-San Francisco's Mission Bay Conference Center on Thursday, April 16.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.