Some local environmentalists say the Obama administration's plans to allow oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf off the mid-Atlantic coast as far north as Delaware have potentially harmful implications for Long Island's South Shore and the Jersey Shore, especially if an accident causes an oil spill.
They'll get a chance to sound off Tuesday at two hearings in Newark. The Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior scheduled the hearings and is preparing an environmental review of the seismic surveying that would precede the drilling of exploratory wells.
Environmentalist John Weber, Northeast regional manager of the California-based Surfrider Foundation, plans to testify.
"The effects can last decades, if not forever, and we get, what - a couple of days of oil? It's not worth it," he said.
With drilling probably years away, Long Island's environmental community has been largely silent on the issue so far. But Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says her group is concerned.
"Oil can travel up to 600 miles depending on currents and wind directions," she said in an e-mail. "The last thing we need is oil-covered beaches, tar-filled estuaries and petroleum-tainted shellfish."
That's a real concern in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles south of Louisiana, where 11 workers are missing in the explosion Tuesday of an oil platform, which sank Thursday. The Associated Press quoted the Coast Guard as saying up to 8,000 barrels of crude oil a day could be spilling from the well.
Said Marci Bortman, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, "It's worth keeping an eye on, that's for sure."
Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based group, has condemned the plans. Cindy Zipf, the group's executive director, says there is danger to marine life, including upsetting migration patterns, by exploration ships, which use sound waves to probe the ocean bottom. The most serious danger, she said, is a catastrophic spill, if it flows northward.
"The eastern coast of New Jersey and the southern coast of Long Island will be ground for any spill," Zipf said.
The areas under consideration for drilling appear on government maps to be at least 175 miles south of the Island.
In the Atlantic, the area involved, the outer continental shelf, lies from 3.5 to 230 miles from the shore.
More than 50 wells were drilled in parts of the mid-Atlantic from 1975 through 1984 - including five off the New Jersey coast, without finding enough oil or gas to be commercially viable. The area later was closed to drilling.
President Barack Obama said in announcing the offshore drilling plans March 31 that oil and gas from the region could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. The energy advisory firm IHS CERA, based in Cambridge, Mass., estimates that there could be 3.8 billion barrels of oil and 137 billion cubic feet of natural gas off the Atlantic coast and that recovery of it could begin in seven to 10 years.
The Minerals Management Service says on its website, "The record of the last 50 years, but particularly in the last 20, shows the offshore industry is one of the safest industrial activities in the United States."