(Jan. 11, 2019) The Ocean City Council has joined the chorus of voices sounding off against proposed offshore seismic blast testing to locate oil and gas deposits offshore.
The council on Monday approved a letter to federal and state officials that opposes the testing because of its potential harm to the ocean environment and area economy.
City Engineer Terry McGean reviewed a letter addressed to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Dr. Walter Cruickshank re-affirming city government’s opposition to offshore seismic blasting.
“There are concerns with that process, plus what the process potentially could lead to, which is oil and gas drilling off the coast,” he said.
McGean reminded the council that the city passed a resolution in 2015 opposing seismic testing off the coast.
“It is essentially a process that is used to perform geological explorations of the sea floor to look for oil and gas deposits,” he said.
Although BOEM had rejected permit applications from a trio of firms proposing seismic blasting off the Atlantic Coast on Jan. 6, 2017, four months later the incoming Trump administration reversed that decision and resumed the review process.
Among the final requirements for permitting is issuance of Incidental Harassment Authorization, which the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration granted to seven companies on Nov. 30, 2018, with three of those firms proposing to test directly off the Ocean City coast.
On Dec. 20, Maryland General Attorney Brian E. Frosh, in conjunction with attorney generals from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia, unveiled a federal lawsuit to prevent offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic.
McGean said the Incidental Harassment Authorization is required because seismic blasting involves significant sonar activity that affects marine mammals.
“The primary concern with the seismic blasting process itself is the effect that it has both on marine mammals and migratory fish, which is primarily tuna [and] dolphins,” he said.
McGean said seismic blasting uses high-powered compressed air cannons to blast sound waves into the ocean floor.
“Based on the sonar reflections of that compressed air, they look to determine the geology of the ocean floor,” he said.
In Aug. 2014, Maryland submitted responses to BOEM’s request for information regarding its 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program.
The state said that in addition to seismic activities’ effect on marine life, recreational and commercial fishing, data is lacking on the deep sea canyons.
Located between 60-80 miles offshore, submarine canyons — the Baltimore, Washington and others — provide crucial foraging locations for species such as white and blue marlin, tunas, black sea bass, monkfish, and golden tilefish.
“Although we have been on record numerous times opposing oil and gas we felt it would be good to reemphasize our opposition to issuing these permits,” McGean said.
Council President Lloyd Martin said federal estimates of potential oil and gas reserves off the entire mid-Atlantic coast are approximately a four-month supply of oil and one-year’s supply of natural gas exists.
“This may cost a lot more than that if just one oil spill or anything else happened,” he said.
Councilman Mark Paddack asked McGean how the reserve estimates were calculated.
“They don’t specifically know what’s down there but … based on the best available data they have, that’s what they feel,” McGean said.
“This does not come from a third [party] environmental watchdog group. That is BOEM’s own estimate of what they believe is out there for the entire Atlantic coast.”
Councilman John Gehrig said in addition to opposing seismic blasting, the city should stand against offshore drilling for other purposes.
“We’re consistent that we don’t want anything that disrupts the migratory patterns of our fish and our fishing economy out there, [including] seismic blasts, drilling for oil or drilling hundreds of foundations for wind turbines,” he said.
McGean said the letter addresses a range of offshore endeavors.
“One of the points I make in there is we oppose any industrial activity off our coast,” he said.
The letter to BOEM Acting Director Cruickshank, which will also be forwarded to Ocean City’s state and federal delegations, notes the area economy is heavily reliant on fishing and beach tourism, with the latter supporting 27,000 jobs in Worcester County and providing $16 billion in economic impact for Maryland.
“You’re putting a well-established economy at risk for a very short-term gain,” McGean said.