Baltimore Shares OC’s Offshore Drilling Opposition

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City got an unexpected ally in its opposition to a federal proposal to open a vast section of ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast for seismic testing and offshore drilling this week when the city of Baltimore passed its own formal measure opposing the measure.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently evaluating four permits from three different private sector companies to conduct seismic air gun blast testing off the mid-Atlantic coast for the purpose of identifying oil and natural gas deposits beneath the ocean’s floor. In March, BOEM hosted a public meeting in Annapolis to present a proposal to lease roughly three million acres off the mid-Atlantic coast for future oil and natural gas exploration and excavation. The plan is to eventually open the leased area along the outer continental shelf as close as 20 miles from the coast of Ocean City and Assateague for the eventual private sector extraction of oil and gas reserves under the sea floor.

In September, the town of Ocean City passed a resolution formally opposing the proposed seismic testing and eventually offshore drilling for oil and natural gas reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast, joining a growing list of municipalities, counties and other jurisdictions from Florida to New Jersey who have filed similar resolutions. On Monday, Ocean City got its first close-to-home ally in its formal opposition when the Baltimore City Council passed a similar resolution.

Baltimore’s City Council passed the resolution “for the purpose of opposing offshore oil and gas development in the mid-Atlantic ocean adjacent to the Maryland coast in general, and expressing even greater concern about, and opposition to, the use of seismic blasting technology in the pursuit of such development.”

Baltimore’s passage of its own resolution brings the number of communities up and down the east coast formally opposing offshore testing and drilling to 85 from Florida and Georgia, through the Carolinas and Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. Ocean City and now Baltimore are the only jurisdictions in Maryland to formally oppose the proposal and, somewhat oddly, no coastal towns in Delaware have yet joined the fray.

The environmental advocacy group Oceana has been at the fore of the opposition since the proposal was first pitched by BOEM. Oceana, along with locally environmental advocacy groups including the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Surfrider Foundation, for example, stood by Ocean City last month when the resort passed it resolution in opposition. On Monday, when the Baltimore City Council passed its resolution, Oceana was on hand again and praised the city’s leaders for their action.

“Maryland’s watermen and crabbers are dependent on clean, healthy ocean ecosystems, which are directly threatened by seismic blasting and offshore drilling,” said Oceana representative and Baltimore native Will Fadely. “Opening the coast of Maryland to offshore drilling would not only threaten the local seafood industry, but also the state’s thriving tourism and ocean recreation industries. Clean and healthy ocean ecosystems generate $5.4 billion in GDP and provide roughly 90,000 jobs to the state of Maryland.”

Oceana’s mid-Atlantic campaign organizer Caroline Wood also praised Baltimore’s resolution and urged other jurisdictions in Maryland and around the region to follow suit.

“The Chesapeake Bay is one of the defining features of the city of Baltimore and the entire mid-Atlantic region,” she said. “The city of Baltimore took a stand today to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the thousands of Marylanders that depend on clean water for their livelihoods. It’s a step in the right direction and we hope that both Governor Hogan and the state of Virginia are taking note.”

Opponents to the proposed oil and natural gas leases off the mid-Atlantic coast point to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back, the effects of which are still being felt. ACT officials have said the proposed lease of roughly three million acres off the Virginia coast puts the Delmarva coastline, including Ocean City and Assateague, for example, in the crosshairs of the similar disaster in the future, threatening the complex ecosystems and fish and marine mammal populations while putting region’s $2 billion tourism economy and $1 billion recreational and commercial fishing industries at risk.

For many, the potential exploration and excavation of the oil and gas reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast are simply not worth the risk.

“Maryland’s irreplaceable natural resources would be denigrated at every step of this unnecessary and unwise process,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “From the testing and drilling needed to locate the deposits, to the toll taken during extraction, transfer and transport of fuels, to the inevitable spills and blowouts that occur during drilling activity.”

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.