PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) – Demonstrators supportive of the environment and clean waters swarmed a meeting of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday, asking the federal employees there not to allow companies to drill for oil and gas off of Rhode Island’s coastline.
The BOEM was in Providence to take public comment on a proposal by President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up 90% of offshore waters to oil and gas drilling. The drilling was banned in most of the nation’s waters under the Obama administration.
“Not on our watch,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a news conference before the meeting. “We’re going to stand up and make sure it doesn’t happen.”
“Opening up nearly all U.S. coasts to offshore drilling is an enormous leap back to the time when our energy policies turned a blind eye to pollution,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, a Democrat who represents Newport.
Protesters chanting “no drill, no spill” marched from the State House to the Marriott hotel, where the BOEM meeting was happening Wednesday afternoon. Demonstrators said they were concerned about oil rigs polluting Rhode Island waters, disrupting the fishing industry and possibly causing an oil spill.
“It’s a scary thought,” said Joel Gates of Glocester, a member of Save the Bay. “Hopefully it won’t happen, but we have to make sure our voices are heard.”
Bill Brown, chief environmental officer for BOEM, said the public comments taken from all the states would be part of a report and analysis conducted by BOEM for the Interior Department.
Brown said it was possible BOEM would recommend not to allow drilling in the waters off certain states, including Rhode Island.
“We’re here to listen, gather environmental information, do an analysis and environmental impact statement,” Brown said. “And for the purpose of really seeing whether some areas should be excluded from development.”
Brown said there is a lot of enthusiasm for offshore drilling in Alaska and Gulf Coast states, and more opposition in Atlantic states.
The draft proposal by the Interior Department is broad, including more than 90% of the country’s Outer Continental Shelf available to lease to oil and gas companies. But Brown said the final proposal could be more limited.
It’s unclear if there is interest from oil companies in drilling off Rhode Island, or if oil is even available there. Brown said no one has examined in decades whether there is oil off the New England coast.
Republican candidate for governor Patricia Morgan said she would not support offshore drilling in Rhode Island, but added that she thought it was unlikely that oil rigs would come to the Ocean State.
“I wouldn’t be in favor of it,” Morgan said. “We have to protect our fishing industry.”
Joe Trillo, the Republican-turned-independent candidate for governor who was President Trump’s honorary campaign chairperson for Rhode Island, also said he would not want to see drilling off Rhode Island’s shores.
Republican candidate Allan Fung’s campaign manager said Fung was not commenting on the proposed offshore drilling.
GOP candidate Giovanni Feroce was the most open to the proposal, saying he didn’t think Rhode Island should be against offshore drilling.
“In Rhode Island we should concentrate on supporting the industry by having companies here manufacture equipment, train workers and provide vessels carrying supplies to the operations,” Feroce said.