While the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took comments and questions from Delawareans about a federal five-year offshore drilling proposal on Thursday, local environmentalists continued to express strong opposition.
“From Lewes down to Fenwick, Delaware has said ‘no’ repeatedly and again to offshore drilling,” said Matt Heim, the outreach director for Assateague Coastal Trust, during a press conference opposing offshore drilling at the Dover Holiday Inn, the same place BOEM was taking comments.
Heim held up a sign showing a whale wearing headphones. The sign said “No airguns! Seismic testing kills!” He said now that Florida’s coast has been pardoned from offshore drilling, he’d like to see Delaware and nearby states get similar relief.
“What is the value of Florida more than here on the Delmarva Coast? Why is Florida being removed when there’s no difference between what the governors have asked for in our local states here?” he said.
Delaware has about 28 miles of coastline. Sussex County provides more than 17,000 tourism jobs, and tourism expenditures in Sussex County accounted for $1.79 billion in 2015, according to the Delaware Tourism Office.
Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) submitted comments ahead of the BOEM visit, saying Delaware's local economy relies of tourism, fishing and other things that would be affected by offshore drilling. And they believe just like Florida, Delaware should be exempt too.
"Florida may have more coastline than our state and be home the president’s beach resort, but Delawareans deserve to have their voices heard just as much as Floridians," they said in a statement.
Many environmentalists say they’re concerned about how offshore drilling and loud airgun blasts could affect marine life and ocean health. Bill Brown, the Chief Environmental Officer of BOEM, says they’ve heard those concerns and they’ll address them.
“We are conducting science and we’re conducting assessment on the impacts, and we are going to do the best we can to make sure that if the surveys go forward they’ll be safe for the animals,” Brown said.
Companies that conduct seismic surveys to locate oil and gas reserves in the Atlantic would need to get an Incidental Harassment Authorization permit from the National Marine Fisheries Commission, Brown said.
That permit includes a lot of safeguards, including a maximum amount of marine mammals that can be affected and that an observer program be put in place to watch for nearby marine life.
BOEM is using comments from residents to prepare an environmental impact statement for a five-year oil and gas leasing program. The new plan would open up areas along the Atlantic coast previously off limits.