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Shore rallies against oil drilling proposal in Va.

(March 13, 2015) Late in January, President Obama’s administration outlined a plan to pave the way for eventual offshore drilling along the southern portions of the East Coast.

Maryland was left out of the proposal, but portions of Virginia weren’t, and that has people worried. With the size and scope of 2010’s BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe fueling much of the debate, Maryland environmental groups and legislators, Democrat and Republican alike, are joining to block the proposed sale of one oil lease to be located somewhere off the coast of Virginia.

“The Town of Ocean City has remained consistent in opposition to offshore drilling off the coast of Maryland. The currents could affect Ocean City if there is a problem,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.

Even if Virginia goes forward with the sale, it is likely years before any drilling occurs. However seismic testing will be performed as a precursor to determine where oil reservoirs are and how large they might be. Marine seismic testing entails firing an array of air guns pointed at the submerged ground, usually no deeper than 30-40 meters, and measuring the sound waves as they are bounced back. Critics say the air guns are loud enough, and fired often enough, that they can injure or disturb fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley write an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times in early February criticizing the administration’s plan.

“The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster should remind us that the benefits of drilling do not outweigh the threat to local economies, public health and the environment when the inevitable spill occurs. The spill … devastated the Gulf of Mexico region — most likely costing over $100 billion in lost economic activity and restoration expenses, disrupting or destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs and causing long-term damage to 3,000 miles of fragile wetlands and beaches,” O’Malley wrote.

Somerset County Delegate and Eastern Shore delegation President Charles Otto (R) agrees with the sentiment.

“It’s absurd the president is considering it,” Otto said, “I think they should look hard at it and reconsider. We’ve been vocal with our senators and congressmen, and there might be minor job increases or benefits, but our energy supply is steady and the prices are stable.”

State Senator Jim Mathias agrees.

“It could be devastating to us here,” Mathias said. “There aren’t enough failsafes in place to protect our $10 billion-plus world-class resort that eight million people visit each year. We have 30,000 property owners and all we have to do is foul that beach and we’re done. I don’t see the risk-to-gain ratio in our favor. You have to look at the whole composite, hurricanes come out of the south and bring tidal surge. There’s so much at risk, the most important thing anyone can do is contact their Federal Representatives.”

Earlier this week the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a governmental organization led by a director appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, held an informational meeting in Annapolis. The Assateague Coastal Trust sponsored a van and packed it with protestors to attend the meeting.

While the meeting in Annapolis was more informative than interactive, nullifying some of the impact of the protestors, attendees said there was a great deal of good information about the proposal.

“The whole approval process for seismic testing through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is completed and went under everyone’s radar, and can start as early as 2015,” Kathy Phillips of the Assateague Coastal Trust said, “I don’t see why we would want to risk losing tourism for oil, and fi we take the mindset the status quo is great when are we ever going to develop the technologies to ease our appetite for petroleum?”

The Gulf Restoration Network is a nonprofit organization formed in 1994 to promote and protect the gulf shorelines, and is currently working to mitigate the damage of Deepwater Horizon.

“Your area needs to be involved with contingency planning. An event may occur 100 miles away but you need to work with the Coast Guard to plan a response. You need to be part of the process. Oil will appear. The BOEM will tell you it will never get to you, but once it goes off there is no capability of keeping oil from your shores,” Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network said.


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