Surrounded by protest signs against drilling for oil off Delaware's coastline, environmentalists and other concerned citizens from across the state gathered in Dover to voice their concerns over a proposal by the federal government to open East Coast waters to offshore drilling.
In early January, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the majority of federal waters could be open to offshore oil and gas exploration if a revised National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program is accepted. The five-year leasing program runs from 2019 to 2024.
Organized by Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman, the Jan. 18 protest attracted nearly three dozen people who packed into a small conference room of the Holiday Inn.
Among them was Lewes Mayor Ted Becker. Pointing to Sussex County's two strongest industries, agriculture and tourism, he said an accident would affect everyone. There's a lot of concern about what this potentially could mean, Becker said.
The rally occurred as the federal government's Bureau of Energy Management was hosting a public meeting in the hotel's large conference room. It was one of 23 meetings scheduled throughout the country. A couple of days before the Dover meeting, BOEM staff met in Annapolis.
Beyond the obvious potential environmental impacts, speakers also addressed other issues, like employee safety and styles of oil platforms.
John Doerfler, representing Delaware Surfrider, said the proposed draft puts oil company employees at great risk because it rolls back safety measures. "They're putting the lives of the men and women who work for those companies at risk, just so they can fatten their pockets," Doerfler said.
Delaware Surf Fishing's Rich King said, "Unless you're cooking them, fish and oil don't mix." King said he's under the impression offshore platforms will be floating, which, he said, means there won't even be structure out in the ocean to fish near. Wind turbines would be better, said King, referencing a state task force exploring the potential of using wind power off Delaware's coastline.
Gov. John Carney, in a statement Jan. 19, was part of a group of Atlantic Coast governors who issued a joint letter opposing offshore drilling.
"We support the notion of energy diversity, but the environmental and economic importance of the Atlantic Ocean must be weighed against the potential unintended consequences of these types of activities," he said. "Not only are ocean and oceanside resources at risk, but also nearby bays, estuaries, coastal communities, iconic natural areas, and ports. The irreversible impact on ecosystems including marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, and other aquatic life that inhabit the ocean offshore is gravely concerning, as is potential risk and harm to our state's economies, our natural resources, our military installations, and our residents."
Public comments on offshore oil drilling are being accepted by BOEM until Friday, March 9. Comments can be submitted at boem.gov/National-Program-Comment.
The wind power task force, titled the Offshore Wind Working Group and created by Carney in August, was supposed to submit a report to the governor by mid-December. That didn't happen.
Tom Noyes, Division of Energy & Climate representative, said in an email the group submitted a progress report letting Carney know the final report on offshore wind in Delaware will be delivered by mid-year 2018. The working group plans to hold further meetings and will continue to invite public comment through June 30, Noyes said.