Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin
In a Baltimore Sun article dated July 2017, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he's against gas drilling off his state's coast which is in sharp contrast to news coming from the White House. Governors, state lawmakers, and attorneys general along the Atlantic coast say drilling threatens beach tourism that has flourished on the coast in the absence of oil production. Hogan is familiar with natural gas development following the Maryland General Assembly's passing of a ban on fracking in 2017 – with his full endorsement.
The Trump administration is moving toward future oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic shore by approving five requests from companies to conduct deafening seismic tests that could potentially kill tens of thousands of dolphins, whales, and other marine animals.
The permits granted will likely inflame governors in states along the Eastern Seaboard who strongly oppose the administration’s proposal to expand federal oil and gas leases to the Atlantic. Federal leases could lead to exploratory drilling for the first time in more than a half-century.
"I'm not in favor of offshore drilling," Hogan told reporters last year. "There are many hurdles before it could come close to reality." One of those hurdles was just crossed which thumbs a nose to Maryland's newly re-elected Republican Governor. Hogan had not previously taken a public stance on offshore drilling, which had been shelved under former President Barack Obama. Hogan is notoriously cautious when weighing in on Trump administration policies which may have helped earn him a second term as a Republican governor for a Democrat-led state.
Mark Belton, Hogan's secretary of Natural Resources, sent a request to federal wildlife officials following Hogan's 2017 public stance, asking for a review of how seismic testing could harm whales, dolphins and turtles, commercial fisheries, and recreational activity.
Seismic testing maps the ocean floor and estimates the whereabouts of potential oil and gas reserves but only exploratory drilling can confirm their presence. In addition to harming sea life, acoustic tests in which boats tugging rods pressurized for sound, emit jet engine-like booms 10 to 12 seconds apart for days and sometimes months, disrupting thriving commercial fisheries.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that soiled the Gulf of Mexico resulted from an exploratory well. Yet another looming gulf disaster, the Taylor Energy spill, has steadily spewed an estimated 700 barrels of oil a day for more than 14 years after a hurricane ripped up production wells. It's estimated the underwater spill could continue for the rest of the century, according to the Interior Department. And as hurricanes appear to be increasing in size and strength, environmental concerns from damaged offshore drilling also increases.
"If the federal government insists on abdicating leadership on this issue, it will be up to the American people to step forward, and in Virginia, we are doing just that," said Gov. Terry McAuliffe back in 2017, committing Virginia to a group of states pledging to carry on the principles of the Paris accord.
Virginia, along with Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, are members of the U.S. Climate Alliance, which has a stated commitment of cutting carbon emissions between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels.
Governor Hogan is not alone when opposing offshore drilling. In a letter to President Trump, Chesapeake Bay Task Force Co-Chair Rep. John Sarbanes who represents the State's 3rd Congressional District said, “Maryland’s inclusion in the draft proposal is heavily opposed in our state, as it threatens the livelihood of countless businesses and communities with significant interests in our fisheries and tourism industries.”
In this joint letter with Maryland U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Representatives Steny H. Hoyer, Elijah E. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John K. Delaney, Anthony G. Brown and Jamie Raskin, Sarbanes submitted comments to the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in strong opposition.
“Should oil and gas development be permitted in these waters, a potential oil spill could do untold harm to our fisheries, tourism industry, and environment. We believe that when you have had a chance to consider the consequences of this proposal on our military, the State’s economy, and the environment, you will reach a similar conclusion.”
The Trump administration recently published a comprehensive report by 13 federal agencies projecting the severe economic costs of climate change. The bleak projections point out coastal flooding and wildfires worsening, and hurricanes becoming more severe with fossil fuels largely to blame since excavating and burning on federal lands alone contribute a fourth of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. The contradictory timing of White House messages is even more baffling as the President, unhappy with the report's conclusions, simply stated, "I don't believe it," suggesting his personal opinion would unravel scientific findings to further promote the oil and gas industry.
While legislators and Governors up and down the Atlantic coast grapple with the federal government's push to drill offshore, they also are acutely familiar with a shrinking coastline that is generally considered prime real estate, something Trump should also know something about. State elected officials also see the economic value in preserving a vulnerable ecosystem bordering their respective states. Just the act of surveying the ocean floor may be as environmentally damaging as any future drilling.
According to one model prediction in a 2014 study released by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in 2014, nearly 2.5 million dolphins would be harassed or possibly killed by acoustic sound blasts each year in the middle and southern Atlantic, and nearly a half-million pilot whales would be affected.