Two bills to protect Delaware waters from offshore drilling passed the state Senate June 21 and now await action in the House.
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, is the prime sponsor of a bill that prohibits drilling for oil and natural gas in Delaware's coastal zone and territorial waters – an area defined as 3 nautical miles off the Delaware coast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill also prevents the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control from issuing any permits for development of offshore drilling infrastructure either for Delaware waters or waters outside of state territory.
“There's concern with the Environmental Protection Agency taking advantage of natural resources,” Lopez said. “We felt it was important to codify language in Delaware code, prohibiting offshore drilling.”
Lopez said he had bipartisan support for his bill, and he co-signed a companion bill with Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, meant to protect Delaware's environment and economy. “Her bill tells the department what to do; mine codifies language in Delaware code,” he said. Hansen's Senate Bill 207 would require state agencies, such as DNREC, to review offshore oil and gas exploration leases along Delaware's coast to the extent permitted under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.
In a statement following the Senate's passage of her bill, Hansen said, “Delaware’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country, are home to a unique marine ecosystem, and are vital to tourism, our state’s fourth-largest private employer. That industry alone supports $7 billion in economic activity and reduces the average Delawarean’s tax burden by more than $1,400. It takes just one accident to change all of that overnight. Our economy, our budget, and our environment can’t afford that mistake.”
Lopez touted a bipartisan effort for the success of both bills. “We made it a point to have bipartisan legislation,” he said. “People want to see legislators work together and get things done.”
Lopez's bill passed 16-1 with four absent; Hansen's bill passed 17-2 with two absent. Both bills now head to the House for consideration.