Resort has been opposed to offshore oil exploration, drilling for four decades
(March 15, 2019) Steady streams of seismic air gun blasts off the coast of Ocean City could have lasting environmental and economic impacts on the resort area long after any well they find deep within the Atlantic Ocean runs dry of oil or natural gas deposits.
That’s the sobering viewpoint Matt Heim, Oceana’s Mid-Atlantic Campaign Organizer, offered March 6 during the Informational Town Hall on Offshore Drilling hosted by the Ocean City and Ocean Pines Chambers of Commerce at Dunes Manor Hotel.
The Mid-Atlantic planning area, which includes Ocean City and the rest of the tri-state peninsula, has gained interest from companies seeking permits to conduct seismic testing and offshore drilling, said Heim, a key figure for an environmental group that has played a frontline role in building opposition on a state and local level. The possible dangers associated with these activities, he said, far outweigh the anticipated results.
“Most of the oil in the Atlantic is located in the mid-Atlantic area, which is where we are located. Unfortunately, we’re in the crosshairs on this issue,” he said.
But seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Atlantic, he said, would provide at best a 16-month supply of oil and three years of natural gas under the United States’ current annual consumption rate, according to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management.
More likely, Heim said, the total estimated output would be an eight-month supply of oil and 21 months of natural gas, respectively.
“The fact is that amount of oil is actually not a lot of oil,” Heim said, because it amounts to approximately four percent of the total oil and natural gas deposits secured nationally. Estimated totals of 2.42 billion barrels of oil and 23.38 trillion cubic feet of gas from within the mid-Atlantic Ocean, Heim said, aren’t worth what Ocean City could lose economically and environmentally.
“Losing a busy summer weekend to a ‘small’ spill in Ocean City, and small is in quotes because any spill is a big spill, that could be devastating to a lot of small businesses,” he said.
In contrast, he said, a study conducted by Oceana links 96,000 jobs and $6 million in gross domestic product to “a clean and healthy coast.”
Heim pointed to studies indicating as much as an 80 percent reduction in catch rate for fisheries, as well as the potential harm to thousands of whales and dolphins.
Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, spoke during the event about the risk to local tourism, which features eight million visitors a year and $1 billion in spending.
“That’s what would be at stake for less than a year’s worth of oil,” Heim said. Early in the nearly two-hour presentation, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said,
“We know how important this is to our future and the future of the next generations. We’ve remained consistent in our opposition. The town of Ocean City has voiced that and stood up strong in opposition to seismic testing and offshore oil drilling.”
Community leaders began facing the debate over seismic testing and offshore drilling at least 45 years ago, Meehan said while holding a resolution signed on Oct. 21, 1974, by then-Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley. That resolution, Meehan said, was “in opposition to exactly what we’re here to talk about.”
More recently, eastern seaboard communities such as Ocean City convinced then-President Barack Obama’s administration to remove the Atlantic Ocean from consideration for blasting and drilling as part of a program finalized in January 2017 that remains in effect.
However, that program could be replaced by President Donald Trump’s America First Energy Plan, an executive order made in April 2017 that directs the Department of the Interior to create a plan that would be in effect from this year through 2024.
The debate began intensifying locally in January 2016, with a letter from Ocean City’s Chamber of Commerce to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declaring their opposition to seismic blasting and offshore drilling.
BOEM proposed in January 2018 to include three locations off Maryland’s coast as part of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The Ocean City Council responded a month later with a resolution in opposition.
The town hall provided community leaders and the general public the numbers behind the raw emotion over this controversial issue.
“It’s fair to say that this is an issue that has everybody’s attention,” Heim said, “and it’s something that we’ve been working on together as a community for quite some time and we’re going to continue to work. We’re going to win this campaign.”