By Alex Trubia
PROVIDENCE—More than a hundred Rhode Island residents gathered at the State House Wednesday to protest the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore fossil fuel drilling in large swaths of US coastal waters.
The protest, organized by Save the Bay, an independent, nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and improving Narragansett Bay, was preceded by a press conference wherein several state officials spoke out against BOEM’s proposal.
Concerned RI residents packed into the State Room as Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Dawn Euer, Mayor Scott Avedesian of Warwick and others railed against the expansion of offshore drilling in RI and elsewhere. The proposal came after President Donald Trump’s latest executive order to reverse existing policy that protects waters from oil and gas drilling.
According to BOEM, the proposal, “The Five Year Program, is an “important component” of the President’s executive order to allow domestic oil and natural gas production “as a means to support economic growth and job creation and enhance energy security.”
“While offshore oil and gas exploration and development will never be totally risk-free, since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill, the U.S. Department of the Interior has made, and is continuing to make, substantial reforms to improve the safety and reduce the environmental impacts of OCS oil and gas activity,” reads the proposal.
However at Thursday’s press conference, Raimondo said the proposal is a “terrifying” move in the wrong direction, citing “tragedies like Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill.”
“We should be focusing on harnessing our offshore wind power – not digging for oil off our coast. The proposal that came out of Washington in January to open up our coastal waters to offshore drilling is terrifying,” Raimondo said, to thunderous applause. “Rhode Island won’t stand for it.”
Reaching the coastlines of all five Gulf Coasts, the long-term impacts of the Deepwater spill are still felt today, taking a devastating impacts on birds, mammals, fish, and other creatures
Senator Dawn Euer, who along with and Representative Lauren Carson have introduced companion bills in the State Senate and House of Representatives to prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling activities in state waters, said “The state and our institutions have invested incredible resources on forward-thinking coastal policy initiatives. Opening up coastal waters to offshore drilling is short-sighted and puts our economy at great risk.”
And Fred Mattera, a retired 40-year commercial fisherman from Point Judith and former owner/captain of the F/V Travis & Natalie said the proposal raised the possibility oil spill “causing devastation to the ecosystem,” posing “economic havoc” on the State’s fishing industry.
With more than 100 beaches and 400 miles of beautiful shoreline, the travel and tourism industry is a $5.2 billion industry in RI, supporting more than 41,000 jobs. RI also has an expansive commercial fishing and seafood industry, with commercial seafood sales generating approximately $290 million in 2015, $105 million in income, $147 million in value added to the economy, and supporting 4,522 jobs.
As the press conference wrapped up, protesters poured out of the State House and onto the street, marching on the sidewalk to the Providence Marriott. They protested for hours, with signs reading “Save Our Coasts,” and chanting “No Drills! No Spills!” and “Save Our Bay.”
Rebecca Doran, a Rhode Island resident, said she was there to help “protect our coast.”
“Tourism relies on it, fishing relies on it-- the state relies on it,” she said, holding multiple signs reading “Don’t drill our coast,” and “Save the bay.”
The march ended at Marriott, however the protest didn’t end there, with residents chanting and waving signs until close to 6 pm.
Cindy Sabo, Save the Bay’s director of communications, said it’s efforts like Thursday’s march that make a difference
“When we as a community come together, we can protect our coastlines,” citing Save the Bay’s efforts to fight a proposed petroleum refinery on the shores of Tiverton back in 1970.
Since then, she added, Save the Bay’s members, supporters, and concerned citizens, have helped us successfully defeat many proposals, such as a proposed nuclear power plant at Rome Point, liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on Prudence Island, container port in North Kingstown, LNG terminal in Mount Hope Bay, and many other proposals,
“All because people showed up,” she said.