Resort Likely To Weigh In Against Seismic Testing

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials could soon be seeing a resolution coming before them seeking their opposition to offshore seismic testing for potential oil and natural gas development off the coast of the resort.

During Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Councilmember Tony Deluca briefed his colleagues on last week’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, also known as the “Green Team,” during which a discussion of a proposal to open vast areas off the mid-Atlantic coast to offshore drilling and seismic testing was held. With a renewed interest in tapping potential oil and gas reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is moving forward with a proposal to allow private sector companies to utilize potentially harmful seismic air gun testing to determine what lies beneath the ocean floor.

Last year, BOEM released its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for seismic air gun testing in the mid-Atlantic, essentially opining the potential rewards outweigh any possible impact to marine life. While there are still several hurdles to clear before seismic air guns are blasted into the ocean floor off the mid-Atlantic coast, the PEIS represents the federal government’s intention to move forward with the practice despite an outcry of opposition from many corners.

U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin have both come down strongly opposed to seismic air gun testing off Maryland’s coast, as have many of their colleagues. Locally, the Assateague Coastal Trust has championed opposition to seismic air gun testing off the coast of Ocean City or anywhere in the mid-Atlantic, but thus far Ocean City officials have been fairly mum on the subject.

Last week, however, the resort’s “Green Team” met for is monthly subcommittee meeting and discussed the town’s potential formal opposition to the proposal. Deluca told the Mayor and Council on Wednesday City Engineer Terry McGean briefed the committee on the proposal and offered to draft a resolution on their behalf to present to the Mayor and Council formalizing their opposition to the proposal.

“Terry’s opinion is that the risks to Ocean City tourism outweigh any energy benefit,” Deluca told his colleagues on Wednesday. “He mentioned that there is a list of communities up and down the coast that object to the activity and potential drilling and fracking. Terry said if this committee agreed, he would draft a resolution stating the issues and concerns and stating a no support stance. The committee agreed unanimously to send the resolution to the council for consideration.”

In March, BOEM hosted a public meeting in Annapolis to present a proposal to lease roughly three million acres off the coast of Virginia for future oil and natural gas exploration and excavation. The plan is to eventually open the leased area along the outer continental shelf just 50 miles away from Ocean City, Assateague, and the Delmarva coastline for the eventual private sector extraction of oil and gas reserves under the sea floor.

Before any offshore drilling or excavation can occur, however, the location of the vast oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor must be determined. As a result, BOEM is moving forward with a proposal to allow private sector companies to utilize seismic air gun testing to determine the location of the reserves.

According to reputable scientific reports, a seismic air gun shoots a blast of sound into the ocean floor, each of which is an estimated 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine’s sound. The concern is the impact of the seismic testing on marine life in the test areas and the unacceptable risk of serious harm to some species, the full extent of which will not be understood until long after the harm occurs.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.