Chambers Plan Meeting Next Week On Seismic Testing

OCEAN CITY — While Worcester County formally joined the growing opposition to proposed seismic testing for oil and gas reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast last week, local chambers of commerce are planning a public meeting to mobilize private sector opposition next week.

In late November, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it had issued its final Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits allowing seven private sector companies to begin the potentially dangerous practice of seismic air gun testing for oil and gas reserves in the mid-Atlantic, including vast areas off the Ocean City coast. As the name implies, the permits allow for the incidental harassment of marine life off the coast during the testing process including dolphins, whales and other species, for example.

When potential seismic testing for oil and natural gas reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast surfaced in 2015, the Ocean City Mayor and Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the proposal. Under increased pressure from dozens of coastal communities and an even larger number of environmental advocacy groups, seismic testing off the mid-Atlantic coast was taken off the table at that time by the Obama administration.

However, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in November announced it had issued final IHA permits to seven private-sector companies, essentially allowing them to begin seismic testing for oil and gas reserves under the seafloor off the mid-Atlantic coast including Ocean City. Last week, the Worcester County Commissioners joined the fray with a formal letter to acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt voicing their opposition to the potentially dangerous practice.

“As elected officials entrusted by Worcester County citizens and visitors to protect sensitive natural resources and ensure the future prosperity of our communities, we strongly feel the risks associated with oil and gas development in the mid-Atlantic planning area far outweigh any potential benefits,” said Worcester County Commission President Diana Purnell last week. “Our economy heavily depends on healthy waterways and beaches to support our robust tourism, real estate and fishing industries. These industries are directly threatened by the proposed exploration and drilling for oil and gas off the Delmarva coast in the mid-Atlantic planning area.”

The county commissioners’ formal letter points out the potential dangers of offshore oil and natural gas exploration and excavation in waters off the nation’s coastline in recent years including 760 fires or explosions, 26 losses of well control and 125 spills of 50 barrels of oil or more. In addition, the commissioners’ letter points out the potential risks far outweigh and possible gains.

According to BOEM’s own data, the mid-Atlantic planning area holds an estimated 2.4 million barrels of oil and roughly 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which appear to be lofty numbers. However, the commissioners’ letter points out at current U.S. consumption rates, that only equals less than a four months’ supply of oil and less than a year’s worth of natural gas.

Meanwhile, the local chambers of commerce announced a public information meeting slated for next week to mobilize the private sector’s opposition to proposed seismic testing and oil and natural gas exploration and excavation. The event, hosted by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce, is planned for next Wednesday, March 6, at the Dunes Manor Hotel in Ocean City at 4 p.m.

Greater Ocean City Chamber CEO and Executive Director Melanie Pursel this week pointed out the dangers associated with proposed seismic testing and oil and natural exploration off the mid-Atlantic coast and the potential threats to the local economy.

“We have a robust tourism economy,” she said. “Our greatest economic driver in this region is our clean beaches. We need to make sure they stay that way.”

Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kerrie Buning agreed the proposed testing and exploration represented a threat to the local economies. While just about every local government has made their opposition known, Bunting said the public needed to be out in front of the issue with public input hearings slated in the coming weeks, which is the motivation for next week’s event in Ocean City.

“People need to know what’s being proposed and how they can bring their voice to the table,” she said. “That’s what this event is all about.”

It should be noted the proposed offshore wind farms off the resort coast have been presented as safe alternatives to oil and gas exploration and excavation, but the two proposals are not mutually exclusive. Federal mandates require an in-kind effort to seek oil and natural gas reserves off the coast and the proposed wind farms come where their own inherent dangers to the local tourism and commercial and recreational fishing industries.

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.