Elected Officials, Groups Renew Offshore Drilling Battle

OCEAN CITY — The battle against opening the ocean to drilling for oil began anew this week after the Trump administration announced a plan to consider vast areas of coastline for the controversial practice.

President Trump last week signed an executive order reopening vast areas of the nation’s coastline, including the mid-Atlantic region to offshore oil exploration and drilling. The proposal would open an area three miles off the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida to offshore drilling and the associated seismic testing. As a result, over 90 percent of the nation’s offshore regions are proposed to be open to drilling for oil reserves.

As expected, the backlash was almost immediate. Over a year after communities up and down the east coast including Ocean City celebrated the federal government’s reversal on a plan to open the nation’s coastlines to offshore drilling, the fight is now back on after the Trump administration announcement last week.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan broached the subject at the end of Tuesday’s Mayor and Council work session when he sought approval from his colleagues to continue to stand in opposition to the proposal.

“As you know, the Trump administration is planning to open over 90 percent of the U.S. offshore regions to drilling including three lease sites in the mid-Atlantic off the Ocean City coast,” he said. “We have consistently been in opposition to any type of drilling or dumping off the coast of Ocean City as far back as 1974.”

When the Obama administration announced plans to lease some areas off the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling and the associated seismic testing in 2015, the Mayor and Council joined hundreds of communities up and down the east coast with the passage of a resolution in opposition. Meehan said on Tuesday there was a meeting planned in Annapolis next Tuesday with Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) officials. He requested permission from the council to continue to voice the town of Ocean City’s official opposition to the Trump proposal.

“There was a resolution passed by the Mayor and Council in 2015 opposing this and opposing seismic blasting, which is the precursor for the drilling of oil,” he said. “There is a meeting next Tuesday in Annapolis and I have been requested to stand with Governor Hogan, Attorney General Frosh and Senators Cardin and Van Hollen to oppose this and with your permission I will attend and voice our continued and consistent opposition.”

Meehan’s voice was one of many raised by federal, state and local elected officials along with countless environmental  advocacy groups in opposition to the latest proposal to open the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling.

State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) on Wednesday issued a statement on the proposal outlining his opposition. Mathias, whose district includes Maryland’s only oceanfront shoreline in Assateague and Ocean City, also sent a letter to Maryland’s congressional delegation, including Congressman Andy Harris, who is on record for supporting the administration’s drilling endeavors.

“There is no possible scenario in which this is a good idea,” he said. “We all know how critical the Atlantic is to us for economic and environmental reasons and, given the Gulf Coast disaster, how quickly that can change.”

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was one of many senators from Atlantic states to send a letter to the Department of the Interior opposing the proposal.

“As someone who loved and has spent my career working to protect and improve the Chesapeake Bay, I cannot condemn the Trump Administration’s move to allow drilling along our Atlantic Coast in any stronger terms,” said Cardin. “It is both horribly irresponsible and needless, as the existing plan already allows for the leasing of more than 45 billion barrels of oil. Opening up a record 90 percent of federal waters to drilling will do nothing to secure our energy future, but could do tremendous and lasting damage to Maryland’s economy and natural resources.”

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined his colleague in voicing his opposition to the plan.

“Allowing drilling off our coasts directly threatens some of Maryland’s key economic drivers such as fishing and tourism, with the risk of an oil spill,” he said. “Offshore oil spills do not respect state boundaries and a spill off the coast of one state could easily do grave harm to another. With U.S. oil production at record high levels, this move is both reckless and unnecessary and deeply unpopular.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has already asked Attorney General Brian Frosh to look into legal means to reverse the proposal. For his part, Frosh gladly accepted the governor’s request.

“The risks posed to our environment and local economies as a result of offshore drilling are unacceptable,” he said. “Environmental disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and around the country should serve as stark reminders of the permanent damage that results in offshore drilling.”

Frosh pointed to the vibrant economy and natural resources put in peril by the proposal.

“Maryland and the rest of the Atlantic coast boast some of the most pristine beaches in the country,” he said. “Our bay and our beaches are the source of enjoyment for millions of tourists annually. We have a robust recreation economy and an historic seafood-based industry that are dependent upon a healthy bay. Oil drilling off the Atlantic coastline is foolish, reckless and unnecessary.”

Closer to home, the Assateague Coastal Trust, which has been a steady critic to drilling from the beginning, also voiced its opposition this week. ACT Outreach Coordinator Matt Heim pointed out the high risk versus the modest benefits.

“If you look at the estimated oil reserves and compare that to the amount of production the American Petroleum Institute is estimating in the Atlantic, all of the oil would be depleted in about 20 years,” said Heim. “Is it worth putting our local economy and environment at risk for an industry that will be gone in 20 years?”

Rich King of the Delaware Surf Fishing Association pointed out the potential to harm one of the region’s strongest industries.

“My main concern is the migratory patterns of fish being thrown off,” he said. “Disruptive construction practices and seismic testing will heavily impact fishing, which is a major industry for our coast. Obviously, a spill like Deepwater Horizon would be devastating, but even a small spill would have huge implications. It is not worth the risk in my opinion.”

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.