Local groups oppose proposed offshore oil drilling


City of Lewes Mayor Ted Becker expresses concerns about federally proposed offshore drilling plans on Thursday in Dover. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — Opponents of proposed offshore oil drilling gathered just a short walk from a federal presentation promoting the plan Thursday afternoon.

Carrying signs and espousing strong opinions, 40 or more local environmental advocates, business leaders, fishermen and elected officials crammed into a small Holiday Inn room in a self-described rally.

President Trump’s Executive Order to streamline expanded exploration of gas and oil development off Delaware’s coast is in the early stages and potential approval is still a year or more away.

The Bureau of Energy Management will host a series of informational sessions to answer the public’s questions and provide video and printed materials to explain the purported benefits of the oil and gas development, and one of the first stops came in Dover.

A broad draft proposal “reflects the Trump Administration’s forward leaning extraction,” approach to oil and gas, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Chief Environmental Officer William Y. Brown said.

Opponents who are concerned about possible massive oil spills and seismic testing, among other concerns, plan to shadow each presentation in the coming weeks. Mr. Brown acknowledged that the presence can’t be discounted.

“A candid view is that there’s a dual perspective and the secretary’s job is to balance energy needs and views of the government with the public’s opinion in the course of formulating a balanced judgment,” he said.

Some of the signs read:

• “Drilling is killing”

• “Don’t Drill our Coast”

• “No airguns! Seismic testing kills”

• “Long live clean H20”

• “Our coastal economy and way of life depends on a healthy ocean”

• “Stop offshore drilling”

• “Keep our coast oil free”

Speaking against offshore drilling, Rich King of Delaware Surfishing opined “Fish and oil don’t mix unless I’m cooking them on the stove.

“If we have a spill anywhere near the (Deepwater Horizon incident off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010), Delaware is in deep trouble.”

While President Obama attempted to find a “middle ground” to meeting the views of environmentalists and companies devoted to drilling, Green Delaware Executive Director Alan Muller believes “Trump and his people are really establishing that there’s really no difference between regulatory agencies and the companies they are monitoring.”

With an environmental impact study required and “a lot of other steps” needed, Mr. Muller believes there will be no verdict about the plan’s future by the end of 2019. There’s a lot to consider in the 380-page draft plan, he said.

“There will be a lot of legal challenges and opponents have the money to take the issues to court,” he said.

Speaking to the anti-drilling faction, Debbie Heaton of the Sierra Club’s Delaware chapter worried about the affects on Delaware’s tourism industry and estuary, fisheries, oysters, clams, crabs, shorebirds and more. She remembered her youth in the 1960s when oil exploration made for some tar-filled days at the beach.

“I thought we were not going back to those days,” she said.

Added Ms. Heaton in a news release, “Delaware’s coastline, though only 24 miles long, is famed for its beautiful sandy beaches, coastal marshes, and the many communities that dot its coast.

“ It’s also the fourth-largest economic engine in the state, drawing over 3 million annual visitors and supporting 24,000 jobs. Offshore drilling and the pollution it brings threaten the health of Delaware’s residents, visitors, and economy.”

BOEM will accept public comments online at www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/ until March 9.

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