Trump exempts Florida from offshore oil drilling. What about New Jersey?

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This Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 photo shows what remains of the entrance way at the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is converting the casino into its own branded resort next summer, is training 15 young Atlantic City residents for construction jobs on the project.

President Trump used to own three New Jersey casinos that could have, on a clear day, offered views of the kind of offshore oil drilling rigs his administration wants to allow off the Atlantic seaboard.

But his administration has exempted Florida — home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property — from the threat of coastline oil exploration, saying the tourism industry there is too valuable to jeopardize.

Now New Jersey wants that exemption.

“We’d like equal treatment for N.J. and I’d like to meet with you to explain why,” Gov.-elect Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “The Jersey shore is our pride and joy and an economic driver for our communities — we cannot allowing drilling off the coast.”

New Jersey officials raised a ruckus last week when the U.S. Department of the Interior, under Secretary Ryan Zinke, announced a plan to open virtually the entire U.S. coast to offshore exploration and drilling. At that point, Florida was still part of the plan.

That changed on Tuesday. Zinke issued a statement saying the Trump administration would not allow drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Florida after hearing from its Republican governor.

Zinke said that after meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and his leadership team, “I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Apparently, Zinke learned from Scott that “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

That flabbergasted officials, Democratic and Republican, in New Jersey, which has 130 miles of coastline and also is heavily dependent on summer tourism and year-round birding. Estimates put direct and indirect economic impact of the coast at about $45 billion.

A spokesman for Murphy, who takes office on Tuesday, referred a request for an interview on the topic to the soon-to-be governor’s Twitter account.

New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo also took to social media, noting that during the Obama administration, he opposed consideration of opening the coast.  That administration blocked any drilling off the Atlantic — which the Trump administration wants to reverse.

LoBiondo also signed a letter sent by 13 members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, that requests a meeting at the Shore with federal officials.

“Given your recent meeting with Florida Governor Rick Scott, after which you decided to exclude Florida’s coasts from any offshore drilling, we believe that New Jersey also deserves the courtesy of a Secretarial visit,” the letter states. “We also request that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management consider holding a public hearing in New Jersey, in addition to the public meeting scheduled in Trenton, and that you consider doing so in a coastal community.”

The draft proposal by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a part of the Interior Department, calls for expanded drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast and would open up waters off California. Originally, it would have allowed for drilling from Florida to Maine in U.S. waters, which has been blocked for decades. New Jersey’s territorial waters extend 3 nautical miles, or 3.5 statute miles, from shoreline. Federal waters extend for the next 22 miles.

But there are no specifics on where exploration or drilling would take place off New Jersey — if at all. The state falls into the North Atlantic map, which lists two potential leases, and also borders the mid-Atlantic map, which lists three potential leases.

The greatest prospects for offshore oil are in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic waters of Alaska, according to a 2011 assessment  by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Atlantic offshore oil and gas fields represent less than 6 percent of the nation’s “technically recoverable” offshore resources, BOEM said.

No Atlantic sites made the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2015 list of the nation’s top 100 oil and gas fields.

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia stand to gain the most from Atlantic offshore oil and gas development, according to a 2013 economic study conducted for the American Petroleum Institute and the National Ocean Industries Association. That study estimated that by 2035, Atlantic offshore oil and natural gas development could produce an incremental 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, generate nearly 280,000 jobs and contribute up to $23.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy.

Some oil exploration took place off the Atlantic Coast between 1976 and 1983, when 51 wells were drilled on the outer continental shelf. Eight wells were drilled about 90 miles east of Atlantic City, and six of them showed natural gas. But they were all plugged and abandoned as “non-commercial” – gas prices started to fall, and the wells did not contain sufficient recoverable gas to extract. Those were the last wells drilled off the Atlantic coast.

President Trump used to own three Atlantic City casinos: Trump Plaza Casino & Hotel, Trump Marina Hotel Casino, and Trump Taj Mahal.  All failed as the city declined with the rise of gambling competition from neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania.

Staff writer Andrew Maykuth contributed to this article.

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