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Coastal oil and gas drilling won’t affect offshore wind projects, U.S. official says

An Interior Department spokeswoman downplayed any potential conflict between oil and gas drilling and wind projects.

The Trump administration’s decision to offer nearly all coastal U.S. waters for oil and gas drilling won’t interfere with the government’s aggressive steps to lease those waters for possibly thousands of wind turbines, federal officials said.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which will oversee both programs, already has granted a 70,000-acre wind farm lease in waters 14 miles or more off Long Island.

The bureau also is proposing or has granted more than a dozen other wind-power leases and projects from Maine to North Carolina. Last month, the bureau broached the prospect of several new wind-energy leases near Long Island, including off the entire Hamptons.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a plan to open drilling in nearly all coastal U.S. waters to help create a “new path for energy dominance in America,” reversing an Obama-era ban on the practice.

The outer continental shelf includes waters that are from 3 nautical miles from the coast to beyond 200 miles, the federal agency said.

BOEM spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty downplayed any possible conflicts between wind and fossil-fuel production.

“There are multiple uses of the outer continental shelf, and one form of energy development does not take precedence over another,” Moriarty said.

Regulations allow for multiple uses of areas — for wind, oil or gas production, or even sand and gravel mining. She also noted that a decision about oil and gas drilling has not been finalized.

Moriarty said bureau regulations say that if a lease is issued for a specific use, including wind or oil drilling, “we may consider a request for other uses, as long as those uses do not unreasonably interfere with the original leaseholder’s enjoyment of its lease.”

Placement of oil rigs, and wind turbines, remain years away.

LIPA doesn’t expect production from its 90-megawatt wind project off Rhode Island until late 2022.

Statoil’s Empire Wind project probably won’t begin production in waters 14 miles from Long Beach until at least 2024, the energy company has said.

Creation of a new program for the outer continental shelf typically takes two or three years to complete, Moriarty said. Oil or gas drilling could take five to 10 years or more, particularly in “frontier” areas such as the northeast that would be new to the practice, Moriarty said.

Commercial fishing groups that have opposed offshore wind farms have been somewhat less vocal in their condemnation of Trump’s oil and gas drilling plan.

The Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, a critic of offshore wind farm proposals by LIPA and others, hasn’t taken a formal position on Trump’s drilling decision. Executive director Bonnie Brady said the group is still reviewing the materials.

Still, she said, the group is “very much against” any form of energy production that displaces commercial fishermen from traditional fishing grounds or destroys habitat or spawning areas.

“Clearly oil and water don’t mix, and oil and fish definitely don’t,” she said. Gov Andrew M. Cuomo and a some state and local lawmakers also oppose the proposed drilling plan.

Two local groups, the Long Island Association and Discover Long Island, which promote local business and tourism, on Wednesday wrote to the Interior Department expressing opposition to any potential drilling off local waters.

“While we support offshore wind farms off our coast that are far enough out to sea as to not present aesthetic impacts, we do not support including Long Island under the purported “Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program,’” LIA chief Kevin Law and DLI chief Kristen Jarnagin, wrote.

“We respectfully request that you reconsider the suitability of offshore drilling in waters near Long Island,” they said.

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