(March 8, 2019) Lively discussion filled nearly two hours of the Informational Town Hall on Offshore Drilling held Wednesday.

But approximately 50 community leaders, business people and local citizens fell silent as the most heart-tugging moments unfolded in a cautionary video shown during an event hosted by the Ocean City and Ocean Pines Chambers of Commerce at Dunes Manor Hotel.

The session was the latest step in an effort to prevent seismic blasting and offshore drilling off the coast of Ocean City from becoming reality.

The crowd watched the nearly 10-minute video as Assateague Coastal Trust, a local environmental organization, highlighted the potential risks behind the search for oil and gas deposits by detailing the potentially harmful, and even deadly, effects on marine animals that rely on sound to live.

Most notably, animals can suffer temporary to permanent hearing loss, those in attendance learned, as well hemorrhaging within the brain and other internal organs. Animals also could flee the area to escape seismic air gun activities, which feature blasts of compressed air generating up to 250 decibels of sound — or several times more than jet engines produce — every 10 seconds.

“It would kill so much wildlife,” White Marlin Open tournament founder Jim Motsko said.

With a delicate ecosystem linked with a tourism industry that annually brings 8 million people and $1 billion in spending to Ocean City, said Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Pursel, “an oil spill would be utterly devastating to our economy.”

“You have to lend your voice,” Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips said shortly before the video concluded.

The message seemed to open eyes, and led into a presentation outlining what lies ahead in the battle against seismic blasting and offshore drilling. Matt Heim, Mid-Atlantic Campaign Organizer for Oceana, a leading environmental group focused on protecting oceans, pointed to widespread opposition on state and local levels along the Atlantic coast against a proposed 5-year plan set to be unveiled in the coming weeks that would threaten coastal communities from Maine to Florida.

Heim said it began with President Donald Trump’s America First Energy Plan in April 2017, an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to create a plan that would be in effect through 2024.

The proposed plan’s anticipated release this spring would be followed by a 90-day period for public comments on the issue. “It’s critically important that we get informed, that we get engaged on this issue,” Heim said, “because this is our window. This is our opportunity.”

Heim said surveying permits under consideration would lead to seismic air gun activities for 850 combined days.

“If these permits are approved,” Heim said, “we could see this off of our coast very soon.”

“Grassroots opposition from coastal communities,” Heim said, led then-President Barack Obama’s administration to remove the Atlantic Ocean from consideration for seismic blasting and offshore drilling as part of a plan finalized in January 2017 that remains in effect.

“Our voices matter,” Heim said. Now, the work continues in Ocean City. “We know how important this is to our future and the future of the next generations,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “All you have to do is show the video.”

In a related development, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced Wednesday that a coalition of nine state attorneys general he is leading, has joined a group of non-governmental organizations’ motion to preliminarily enjoin the Trump Administration’s authorization of harassment of marine mammals via seismic air gun surveys in the Atlantic Ocean.

A statement from his office said the surveys will expose whales, dolphins, and porpoises to repeated sound blasts louder than 160 decibels. 

Last month, the court granted the states’ motion to intervene as parties in a pending lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and federal officials filed in South Carolina by a coalition of local and national non-governmental organizations. To prevent any seismic testing from occurring while the lawsuit is under way, the states joined in those organizations’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

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