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Trump administration moves to open Delaware's coast to offshore drilling

Courtesy of NRDC

Federal officials announced plans Thursday to open up protected areas in the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling, drawing immediate criticism from Delaware environmental groups.

In a teleconference Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a five-year plan from 2019-2024 opening up 25 of 26 planning areas in federal waters to 47 potential lease sales for oil and gas exploration, including areas in the Atlantic off of Delaware's coast.

But Delaware environmentalists worry this plan could spell trouble for tourism, ocean health and marine mammals. The third, in particular, would be affected by seismic blasting — the first step to offshore drilling, said Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute.

Seismic blasting involves using airguns to emit frequent blasts of air through the ocean to find oil and gas deposits. Thurman said the decibel level — up to 250 dB, can harm marine mammals' hearing.

"These are sound-based animals who rely on hearing each other and other forms of sound they utilize for their survival," Thurman said. "They will not be able to engage in that behavior with the intrusion of this level of noise."

When a five-year offshore drilling plan was on the table in 2016, the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation sent a signed surfboard to the White House, noting their opposition to the plan. Kevin Chandler, the chair of Delaware's Surfrider chapter, said though they do not know if they will do that again, the group will certainly send the administration comments on the plan.

"We've won this battle before and we're certainly not going to be intimidated," Chandler said. "We'll certainly put our efforts forward and do it again."

Chandler said he's concerned about a potential oil spill, like the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that closed beaches in Florida. Like Florida, Chandler said, Delaware's beaches would need to close in that circumstance, and tourism would take a hit.

"Delaware, just like Florida, obviously depends a lot on tourism dollars," he said.

Ocean conservation and advocacy group Oceana said the US has already seen what can happen when offshore drilling devastates the environment and economy.

"Seven years after the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Gulf is still recovering. Will we allow Florida’s white beaches or the popular and pristine Outer Banks to share a similar fate? What about the scenic Pacific coast or even remote Arctic waters?" said Oceana's campaign director Diane Hoskins.

During Thursday's teleconference, Zinke touted the United States as a leading producer of oil and gas.

"Under President Trump we're going to have the strongest energy policy and become the strongest energy superpower. We certainly have the assets to do that," Zinke said.

Zinke said the 47 potential lease sales in the proposed five-year plan from 2019 to 2024 also include 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. It's the largest number of lease sales proposed in history for a national outer continental shelf program across a period of half a decade.

Zinke's announcement kicked off a 60-day public comment period. The plan is not final yet, he said.

"This is a start on looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore assets and beginning of a dialogue on when, how, where and how fast those offshore assets should be or could be developed," Zinke said.

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