Federal Offshore Drilling Plan Will Not Impact Area

OCEAN CITY — The federal government last week announced it was moving forward with an aggressive five-year plan to expand offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, but a vast, three million acre track of ocean off the mid-Atlantic Coast is not part of the short-term plan.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) last week announced it had completed its analysis of a five-year plan from 2012 to 2017 to begin exploring and ultimately tapping into the nation’s vast oil and natural gas reserves in several areas around the country in a continued effort to wean the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil. Conspicuously absent from the five-year plan, however, is a vast tract totaling nearly three million acres off the mid-Atlantic coast just about 50 miles from Ocean City.

The BOEM report includes a variety of reasons for not pursuing the mid-Atlantic area for offshore oil and natural gas exploration and drilling such as the potential conflict with the extensive military facilities and operations in the area in and around the Norfolk area. Also, the report suggests the data about the potential reserves of oil and natural gas off the mid-Atlantic coast is decades old.

U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulksi and Ben Cardin had voiced concern, if not displeasure, with the concept in the past.

“While certain Atlantic states are supportive of offshore oil and natural gas leasing in the mid-Atlantic planning area, many other Atlantic states expressed concerns about oil and natural gas development off their coasts and in neighboring areas,” the BOEM report reads. “Accordingly, BOEM is proceeding with a region-specific strategy to address these considerations and support future decision making regarding whether, and if so where, potential offshore oil and gas lease sales in the mid-Atlantic planning areas would be appropriate.”

The BOEM report concludes further study and exploration in the vast area off the coast of Virginia and Maryland will continue.

“Taken together, these factors support the decision not to include the mid-Atlantic planning areas for evaluation at this stage of the five-year program,” the report reads. “However, the BOEM is currently pursuing a specific strategy to resolve significant potential conflicts between oil and gas activity and other important uses in these areas including military, fishing and vessel traffic uses as well as environmental and infrastructure concerns.”