Fed Review Of Oil Disaster’s Impact On OC Eyed

OCEAN
CITY – With the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico passing the
one-month mark last week, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski this week fired off a
letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials,
calling for a federal review of the potential impact on Ocean City, the
Chesapeake and other coastal areas in Maryland.

On
April 20, the high-tech Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the gulf exploded, killing
11 crewmembers before eventually collapsing off the coast of Louisiana. Over a
month later, crude oil continues to stream out of the well at a rate of over
100,000 gallons per day, depending on whose estimates on believes, despite
several failed attempts to bring the massive spill under control.

Already,
the devastating affects of the spill have reached coastal communities around
the gulf as expected, but the jury is still out on whether the growing oil
slick will reach looping currents in the gulf and get swept into the Gulf
Stream around the tip of Florida to the Atlantic side. Several experts now
believe that scenario is no longer just possible, but probable although the
extent to which the potential impacts might reach coastal communities along the
eastern seaboard including Ocean City and the Chesapeake remains unknown.

To that
end, Mikulski on Tuesday wrote an urgent letter to NOAA officials seeking an
immediate assessment of the potential impact of the spill on Maryland,
specifically Ocean City and the Chesapeake Bay. As chairperson of the Senate
subcommittee that funds NOAA, Mikulski asked the federal agency to report on
the probability of the spill reaching Maryland’s shores.

“I am
very concerned about the potential impact on the east coast, particularly on
Maryland and on the Chesapeake Bay,” she wrote. “As the chairman of the
Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NOAA, I ask for your assessment of how
this oil may impact Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay and the rest of the east
coast.”

Mikulski
acknowledged in the letter the immediate concern is and should be on the
coastal areas of the gulf most affected by the spill, but urged NOAA officials
to look into the long- term affects of the disaster. She said she is making the
request on behalf of citizens in her home state concerned about the potential.

“The
immediate impact on the communities closest to the spill is obvious,” she
wrote. “The nation has watched the oil plume grow, fisheries closures expand,
wetlands darken and more sludge-covered animals wash ashore. But my
constituents are also asking will they see oil on the beaches of Ocean City?
Will the spill impact the Chesapeake Bay, which is already under great stress?
This would affect the bay and the jobs of people who work on the bay. It would also
affect our cultural identity.”

Mikulski
told NOAA officials the concerns about the potential impact of the spill in
Maryland, particularly Ocean City and the Chesapeake, are very real and very
immediate.

“I fear
that if this unabated oil reaches the Gulf Stream, coastal communities along
the eastern seaboard risk the same environmental and economic devastation that
our friends in the gulf are feeling now,” the letter reads. “Our coastal
communities, our fisheries and our tourism industries are all in jeopardy, as
are our protected wetlands and vulnerable wildlife.”

Mikulski’s
letter to NOAA this week comes on the heels of a letter sent by Senators from
two mid-Atlantic states last week to President Barrack Obama urging the
president to reconsider opening a vast area off the coast of Virginia to
offshore oil drilling and excavation. In March, a full month before the
Deepwater Horizon disaster began to unfold in the gulf, the president announced
a vast area off the mid-Atlantic coast totaling nearly three million acres
within 50 miles of Ocean City and Assateague could be leased for future oil and
natural gas drilling.

The
lease area, called Virginia Lease Sale 220, includes a vast area in the
Atlantic used by the Navy for military operations and exercises. The letter,
sent to Obama by Mikulski and her colleague from Maryland, Senator Ben Cardin,
along with two New Jersey Senators, acknowledges the president’s decision to
postpone the lease sale off the coast of Virginia in light of the recent
disaster in the gulf, but urges Obama to reconsider any long-term plans to
drill for oil and natural gas in the target area because of concerns about
impacts on military exercises.

“We
appreciate that you have postponed plans to move forward with this lease sale
in light of the safety and environmental concerns revealed in the ongoing Gulf
oil spill disaster,” the letter to Obama reads. “It should be noted, however,
that even if you could guarantee the safety of oil and gas rigs and platforms,
a guarantee that neither your administration nor the oil company executives
that appeared before Senate committees were willing to provide, their very
presence off the coast of Virginia would still interfere with ongoing Naval
operations in the area. The risks to our national security are simply too high.
We urge you to abandon all plans for oil and gas exploration and development in
this area.”

 

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