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Town considers resolution opposing offshore drilling

After hearing a presentation on the potential dangers of offshore drilling on the North Fork, Southold Town officials are considering a resolution opposing it.

A representative from Oceana, an international ocean conservation advocacy group, presented its findings about the risks of offshore drilling, including potential harm to local jobs and tourist attractions, during Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

A proposed federal plan, announced in January by interior secretary Ryan Zinke, would expand offshore drilling by opening 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration, undoing protections currently in place. Supervisor Scott Russell said his counterparts in many municipalities have expressed concern about offshore drilling.

“It is actually a routine policy. It has very little to do with politics,” said Brian Langloss, campaign organizer for Oceana, adding that such plans typically arise with every presidency.

Mr. Langloss is familiar with coastal communities, having grown up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and been directly affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Before that catastrophe, he said, his hometown was a vibrant fishing and boating community, but after more than 200 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, tourism suffered. 

“The BP Deepwater spill has had a profound impact on fishermen, hotels, restaurants, the community where I am from,” Mr. Langloss said.

In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put forward legislation called Save Our Waters, which would prevent offshore drilling in New York waters.

Oceana has estimated that the government would seek to extract approximately 10 days’ worth of oil and eight days’ worth of gas in the North Atlantic zone. 

“That puts in jeopardy 414,000 New York State jobs as well as $39 billion in New York State’s [gross domestic product], derived specifically from oysters, fishing, hotels, tourism and all those accessory support industries that support ocean recreation and tourism,” he said. These numbers left Councilman Bob Ghosio needing more information before deciding on any resolution opposing offshore drilling.

“I just can’t imagine a company like Exxon would put so much money into building infrastructure there for 10 days’ worth of business,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End, said that such municipal resolutions are significant because if the federal proposal becomes law, the resolutions can be used in lawsuits.

“Oil spills know no political boundaries, so what happens in the ocean is going to eventually affect the North Fork,” Mr. Virgin said.

After hearing a similar presentation recently, Riverhead Town adopted a resolution formally opposing the proposed federal plan.

“I think that there’s a whole lot more involved than just putting a piece of paper together supporting something without understanding where the facts have come from,” Mr. Ghosio said, referring to the figures provided by Oceana. “I don’t know if they’re necessarily reliable.”

He requested more time to study the issue before the town decides whether to vote on a resolution. Other board members agreed, and said the matter would be put on the work session agenda in two weeks.

“Whether it’s 10 days or 10 months, it has the same negative effects,” said Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who favored writing a resolution. “It kills everything off for years.”

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