Bill would ban offshore drilling along Delaware's coast
A bill to ban offshore drilling along Delaware’s coast is coming before First State lawmakers.
State Senator Ernie Lopez’s (R-Lewes) legislation would ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in state waters and Delaware’s coastal zone.
It would also prohibit permits from being issued for facilities or infrastructure connected to offshore drilling in state and federal waters.
The Lewes Republican sees denying those permits as one tool to block the Trump Administration’s proposal to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean – including waters off of Delaware’s 28 miles of coastline.
"If we’re able to restrict that permitting piece right off the bat, that puts the state in a much stronger defensive position," Lopez said.
The bill has wide bipartisan support that Lopez says he hopes could help counter the federal offshore drilling proposal.
"Any sort of a federal effort will be met with a significant amount of sovereign state resistance from Delawareans across the political spectrum, which I think makes a tremendous statement," Lopez said.
According to the Delaware Tourism Office, Sussex County - where most of Delaware's beaches are - is responsible for 42 percent of visitor spending. The office also says tourism contributed $3.3 billion to Delaware's gross domestic product in 2016.
Lopez has lived in Lewes since 2006, and says Delaware’s beaches have too much environmental and economic value to be put at risk.
"As I tell people all the time, I represent everyone’s district: Rehoboth, Lewes – these are places where Delawareans have made memories for generations," Lopez said. "I felt it was important to make a stand."
Kevin Chandler, the chair of the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, says he's worried about the risk of an oil spill if the federal offshore drilling proposal goes through. He said he believes the local legislation is a step in the right direction.
"It reinforces the awareness that [offshore drilling] does not benefit the Delaware coast at all," Chandler said.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed similar legislation in April.
Lopez says he hopes lawmakers will act on Delaware’s version by the end of this legislative session in June.