Fight against offshore drilling 'an all-hands-on-deck moment'

June 27, 2017

Last September, on a cool, windy Saturday morning, Cape Region politicians and activists - Democrats and Republicans alike - gathered in Dewey Beach to celebrate a shared victory.

In March, the Department of the Interior had announced that, for the next five years, it would not sell oil and gas leases for waters off the Atlantic Seaboard. "When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had said in the official announcement, "it simply doesn't make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years."

None of the factors that Jewell mentioned have changed the logic behind protecting our coastal waters from oil and gas operations.

But the administration has. What President Obama did, President Trump is trying to undo.

On April 28, Trump signed an executive order aimed at opening the Atlantic oceans to offshore drilling. Which means the fight to protect our environment and our economy has begun anew. (And yes, I mean economy too. Which do you think is more important to our long-term prosperity - our tourism industry or legacy fossil fuel operations?)

That's why three nonprofit organizations that helped lead the first fight against offshore drilling are inviting the public to a forum at 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 28, at the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment Cannon Lab, 700 Pilottown Road, Lewes.

The topic will be the Trump administration's proposal for oil and gas development in the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to Oceana, an international organization devoted to protecting the world's oceans, the forum is sponsored by the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Lewes-based MERR Institute headed by Suzanne Thurman.

Oceana's campaign organizer for Virginia, Maryland and Delaware is Caroline Wood, a William & Mary graduate who grew up in Virginia Beach, Va.

The following interview with Wood has been lightly edited.

Q: How does it feel to be back fighting on the same issue?

A: It definitely doesn't feel good to have to be fighting this again, but after the November election, we knew what to expect. President Trump and his administration have made it very clear that they intend to aggressively expand offshore drilling in new areas, including in the East Coast.

Q: How's the fight shaping up?

A: The good thing about having to go at this again is that we've literally just done this and won, except under a friendlier administration, so we've learned a thing or two. We are wiser, smarter, and more strategic. And when I say we, I'm referring to our whole movement, including big NGOs, but I think even more importantly, local organizations like the Assateague Coastal Trust; community leaders and elected officials who have become powerful advocates; business interests who have started self-organizing; and the general public, who has a much more comprehensive understanding of this issue now than four years ago.

Those are the components of our current situation that give me the most hope. Not only are we all better at defending our ocean from oil and gas development individually, we are energized and working together in a way that reflects a hugely powerful grassroots movement.

Q: Do you have a different strategy this time around?

A: There are some tactics from the last fight that will still be effective under our new administration, but the situation is drastically different now than it was a few years ago. So yes, our strategy will be different and will reflect the severity of the threat that's at hand. We'll be smart and we'll have to get creative too. It's going to be a really tough fight. But I have no doubts that we'll win again.

Q: Are you getting back in touch with towns to ask them to reaffirm their opposition?

A: Anyone who weighed in during the last round is going to have to engage again under this new administration, including coastal towns and elected officials, as well as the general public. It's essential that we not only reach out to re-engage with our past supporters, but also work proactively to grow that base - which is why we're working with our allies in Delaware, like the MERR Institute and Surfrider, to hold the public meeting on Wednesday night.

Virtually everyone reading this has a vital interest in protecting our coast. Defeating this new threat requires a powerful grassroots movement. Find out Wednesday night how you can help. As Wood said, "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We've got no time to lose."

Don Flood is a former newspaperman living in Lewes. He can be reached at


  • Accomplished writers appear in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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