Unified Opposition To Offshore Drilling Expressed At Hearing

ANNAPOLIS — A clear and unified message in strong opposition to offshore drilling for oil was sent this week during a rally in Annapolis prior to an informational meeting on the proposal.

Last month, the Trump administration announced a plan to open roughly 90 percent of the nation’s coastline to potentially dangerous offshore drilling and exploration. The president signed an executive order reopening vast areas off the Atlantic coast including Ocean City and Assateague, for example, to offshore drilling and the associated seismic testing.

The executive order began anew the long-standing battle by coastal communities, state leaders and environmental advocates against potentially dangerous offshore drilling and exploration. On Tuesday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hosted an informational meeting on the proposal. Prior to that meeting, however, a coalition of elected officials, private sector representatives and environmental advocates gathered in the state capital to voice their collective displeasure with the proposal.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan read into the record a resolution passed by a former Mayor and Council way back in 1974 against any offshore drilling, dumping or other activity that could threaten the coastal economy in the resort. Meehan said the same message resonates today.

“We stand by these statements and we stand by our belief in the sanctity of the Atlantic Ocean and the waters out there,” he said. “We can’t replace what we have today and I see no advantage in jeopardizing what we have.

Meehan said the proposal to open the mid-Atlantic coastline to offshore drilling put at risk the very resources enjoyed by generations in Ocean City and for future generations.

“What we are able to see and enjoy today, we want future generations to be able to see and enjoy as well,” he said. “If this takes place, they may never know what we know today. This is very important. We all need to stand together and do whatever we can to prevent this from happening, whether it’s 1974, 2015 or 2018.”

State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) also attended the meeting on Tuesday. Mathias said he has been working with Maryland’s congressional delegation in Washington to reverse the decision on offshore drilling.

“It’s a very serious issue,” he said. “I am absolutely opposed to this. This rally was a very worthwhile exercise and I think it got the message across. I hand-delivered my letter of opposition to BOEM and I’ve also written letters to our two senators and all eight congressmen.”

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel also spoke of the potentially devastating impact of offshore drilling on the local tourism-based economy.

“Our tourism industry is at the heart of our local economy,” she said. “It wouldn’t take a big spill to scare people away. Even a small spill that might shut down Ocean City’s beach during a busy summer weekend could have a major impact. It’s just not worth the risk.”

The recreational fishing industry was also well-represented at Tuesday’s rally and sent a similar message.

“Our coastal resources and communities are far too valuable to risk a failure in offshore drilling or its infrastructure,” said recreational fisherman Tony Friedrich. “The mid-Atlantic population puts enough pressure on the marine environment. We need to conserve what we have, not present more threats.”

The Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) has come out strongly in opposition to drilling off the mid-Atlantic coast under the prior administration and reiterated its message on Tuesday. ACT Executive Director and Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips said even a small risk of an offshore oil spill negated any potential rewards in terms of oil reserves.

“Our coast is too precious to be put in the crosshairs of this plan,” she said. “Every citizen deserves clean, swimmable, fishable waterways. Even a small spill would imperil our coastal ecosystems, economy and way of life. Maryland’s coastal communities and state leaders have already spoken and it’s time for this administration to listen.”

ACT Outreach and Communication Coordinator Matt Heim said the most recent proposal flies in the face of communities who so staunchly opposed the proposal the last time around.

“Beyond the environmental risks and the wrong direction this plan takes in regard to addressing climate change, what is most concerning here is the utter disrespect this plan shows to communities across the country who have voiced loud and clear they do not want drilling off their coast,” he said. “If citizen and state voices really matter, like [Department of the Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and the Trump administration profess, they will listen to governors like Larry Hogan and communities up and down the east coast and remove the entire Atlantic from consideration.”

Ocean City Surfrider Foundation Chair Jane Robinson agreed the potential gain from exploring and tapping into the relatively low oil reserves off the coast did not outweigh the risks.

“Offshore drilling is inherently dangerous and it will not solve our nation’s energy needs,” she said. “According to the Department of Energy, fully developing all of our recoverable offshore oil reserves would lower gas prices by only three cents. Is such a tradeoff worth the risk to our coastal economies, including tourism, recreation and commercial fishing, which generate billions of dollars in annual revenue? Maryland can’t afford an oil spill.”

Not only would the proposal put Maryland’s Atlantic coastal resources at risk, but would also imperil the Chesapeake Bay, according to Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and drilling offshore poses unjustifiable risks to the bay, its living resources, the tourism economy and the many jobs that depend on clean water,” he said. “Ocean waters play a critical role in supporting the bay’s natural resources. For example, all of the bay’s blue crabs utilize these waters during their early life stages. An oil spill at the wrong time of year could destroy an entire year class. We are beginning to see progress in bay restoration. Now is not the time to put that progress at risk.”

The Sierra Club, another advocacy group, also weighed in during the rally on Tuesday.

“Allowing drilling off our coast would threaten Maryland’s coastline, marine ecosystem and the health and economic well being of our communities,” said Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Director Josh Tulkin. “Marylanders are here today to send a clear message to the Trump administration. From Alaska to Ocean City, we do not support offshore drilling.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

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.