WASHINGTON – The Obama administration announced Tuesday plans to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, drawing opposition from Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and other Democratic senators from coastal northeastern states.
The administration’s proposal would allow leasing of areas offshore of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia as part of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.
The proposal is open for public comment for 60 days.
“At this early stage in considering a lease sale in the Atlantic, we are looking to build up our understanding of resource potential, as well as risks to the environment and other uses,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a press release.
But Cardin, joined by Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, strongly opposed offshore drilling in the Atlantic, citing concerns about oil spills affecting fishing and tourism.
“My concern is about the environment, the risk factors and the impact it could have on the people of Maryland,” Cardin said. “It’s not worth it from a risk-reward perspective.”
The Chesapeake Bay represents $1 trillion of the Maryland economy, through fishing, tourism, property values and shipping activities, Cardin said.
Maryland’s shore helps account for the $14.9 billion tourism brought into the state, raising about $2 billion in taxes, according to the Maryland Office of Tourism.
The big fear among the Democratic senators is that the drilling could spur an oil spill similar to the Deepwater Horizon spill that affected the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In 70 percent of Atlantic offshore spills, Cardin said, prevailing winds would blow the oil into the Chesapeake Bay.
“I am absolutely opposed to offshore drilling and always will be,” Mikulski said in a statement. “As we saw after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, when oil starts to leak it knows no boundaries. Drilling off the coast of Virginia and other states along the Eastern Seaboard could pose great risks to the coastal economy of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.”
But Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s lone congressional Republican, whose district includes the Eastern Shore said, “I support any effort to make America energy independent and to keep the cost of gas and diesel down, as long as we can do it safely.”
Virginia’s two Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine also expressed support for the plan in a joint statement, “This is a significant step in a multi-year process that should result in the safe, responsible development of energy resources off the Virginia and mid-Atlantic coasts.”
The senators provided an alternative to offshore drilling that they say will produce two times the jobs and two times the energy that drilling would – wind power. Maryland is developing its own offshore wind power program, which is still in the planning stages.