POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. — On the anniversary of the largest marine oil spill in the petroleum industry, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday prohibiting oil and natural gas drilling in state waters, as well as preventing infrastructure like pipelines that could support drilling in more distant federal waters.
It is one of numerous coastal states using state-level laws to try to thwart President Donald Trump’s proposal to allow drilling in federal waters more than 3 miles offshore along most of America’s coastline.
The Democratic governor noted the anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, warning that a similar catastrophe could happen anywhere.
“These are not theoretical, abstract potentials,” he said on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, one of the state’s most popular summer family resorts. “They happen, and they happen with an alarming frequency.”
States including New Jersey, New York, California, South Carolina and Rhode Island have introduced similar bills, Washington state is considering one, and Maryland introduced a bill imposing liability on anyone who causes a spill.
When Trump called for the drilling plan in January, “the reaction from New Jersey and our sister coastal states was a quick and unequivocal ‘No!’ ” he said.
New Jersey and other states used a simple theory to try to thwart Trump’s drilling plan: Although they have no control over federal waters beyond 3 miles from shore, they do control what happens in the 3 miles closest to the land. By banning drilling there, as well as prohibiting supporting infrastructure like pipelines or docks in state waters, “I don’t see how they can get around it,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat representing a Jersey shore district.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith, who also represents part of the shore, agreed.
“If you don’t have the infrastructure going out to the federal line, how do you do it?” he asked. “There’s now a law making this almost impossible.”
The tactics have gotten the attention of the Trump administration. At a forum earlier this month in New Jersey on offshore wind, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said states opposed to the drilling plan have “a lot of leverage” against it by enacting state-level bans.
Zinke noted “a lot of opposition” to the drilling plan among environmentalists and coastal states, but did not signal a retreat from the proposal, which is supported by the energy industry and voters who favor cheaper, more abundant oil and gas.
The American Petroleum Institute says states ought to welcome offshore drilling for the revenue it can produce. Offshore energy production in the Atlantic Ocean alone could support 265,000 jobs and generate $22 billion a year within 20 years, according to the group’s estimate.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spilled in the gulf eight years ago caused “staggering” environmental and economic damage.
“This disaster was a wake-up call, and should have moved us away from ocean drilling,” she said.