Opponents of a plan to let companies test for hidden undersea oil and natural gas deposits from Delaware to Florida turned out in force Friday to urge the federal government to kill the idea.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management held a public hearing in Atlantic City at which environmental groups blasted the plan as dangerous to the state’s $38 billion a year tourism economy, not to mention the lives of sea creatures.

They fear it’s the first step toward oil and gas drilling in areas that were once off-limits.

Gov. Chris Christie has opposed offshore drilling.

Some pro-business groups support the proposal, saying it will help reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. A final decision is due by December.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)