United by their fear of seeing Long Island’s South Shore devastated, a host of environmentalists and public officials gathered in Hauppauge to speak out against a Trump administration plan that would allow for oil exploration and drilling in the region.
The Feb. 14 meeting was organized by New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright, who is also a lecturer in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS).
“People who live here, live here because they value living next to the sea,” he said, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. “We don’t want that mucked up with oil.”
Dr. Carl Safina, the first endowed professor for nature and humanity at Stony Brook University and president and co-founder of the Safina Center at SoMAS, was one of nearly 50 individuals chosen to comment at the meeting.
“With all we know about the need to move off fossil fuels and on to renewables, no new areas at all should be explored for oil,” he said.
While others fixated on the potential for a major spill like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, Safina argued, “The main disaster is the oil that we don’t spill. It’s the daily grind of oil extraction.”
Oil production would bring with it tanker traffic, storage units and the constant stench of petrochemicals, he said. “Daily chronic minor spills” would also likely occur and although they may not receive media attention, Safina stated these leaks would have the same polluting effects on the water.
Even merely exploring for oil could be harmful, Safina said, since the seismic airguns used to identify possible drilling spots often drive whales and other marine life out of their natural habitats.
“So the question becomes, are we willing to realize that our coast is precious?” he asked. “Oil-related jobs may get dangled before our eyes, but maybe we’d like to keep the multibillion-dollar tourism and the properties.”
“We assumed for many years that the federal government wasn’t going to violate us, we can’t assume that anymore,” said Englebright, who is now sponsoring an assembly bill that would help block the federal government from leasing state lands and water for drilling.
Wednesday’s public hearing was originally organized in response to the federal government’s decision to hold its own hearing on the matter in Albany, rather than on Long Island or in coastal New York.
“It is not the right place for this issue because the impact is here,” said Englebright.
Rep. Lee Zeldin stated on Thursday that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will, in fact, hold a meeting on Long Island, although the agency has yet to announce an official date.