Mayors of several New Jersey shore towns are joining with members of Congress from the state to oppose allowing oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

President Barack Obama's administration this week proposed allowing drilling rights to areas 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia to be auctioned off no sooner than 2021, when Obama is long out of office.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (Townsquare Media NJ)

While some officials in the region closest to the drilling support the concept, officials from New Jersey are vigorously opposing it, arguing that the U.S. should be pushing for more renewable energy and that it's not even known what kind of oil reserves are under the ocean in the region. But their main concern seems to be the possibility of a spill.

The bipartisan group of New Jersey officials spelled that out on a conference call with reporters Friday.

"The fact is that drilling in the Atlantic is a risk-reward proposition," said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat. "All of the risk goes to shore communities and all of the reward goes to oil companies."

While the drilling might be confined to areas hundreds of miles away from New Jersey's beaches, he said, spilled oil could still reach them.

Both the fishing and tourism industries could take a hit, the New Jersey officials warned.

Don Guardian, the Republican Mayor of Atlantic City, noted that casinos are essential to the economy of his community. But, he said, "we certainly don't want to gamble with off-shore drilling in the Atlantic."

Brian Wahler, the mayor of Piscataway and president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he expected that organization to back up the members of Congress in their opposition to drilling.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat whose district includes a portion of the New Jersey shore, noted that advocates persuaded the government to remove a South Atlantic drilling plan in 2009.

He said he's pushing for the administration to hold a hearing on the issue in New Jersey.


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