Debate Ensues In House Committee Over Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf Drilling

2017-07-17T16:12:47+00:00 July 17, 2017|

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster oozed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking environmental havoc, turning tourists away from Gulf beaches, and costing Gulf states millions in recovery costs and lost revenue. According Ms. Margaret S. Howell (Founder, Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic), disasters like this have made East Coast residents hesitant to bring offshore drilling to the Atlantic. This idea was at the center of debate in a House Natural Resources hearing when the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met to evaluate federal offshore oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf (OCS). One of the controversial topics explored was the potential for Atlantic coast development, which would first require seismic geological testing to determine the presence and abundance of oil. The environmental, economic, and safety impacts of both seismic testing and oil rigs were fiercely debated.

Committee Democrats were unified in their opposition to seismic testing in the Atlantic. Representative Don Beyer (VA-8) cited its proven negative impact on marine mammal communication, particularly that of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and the bowhead whale in the Beaufort Sea. He also brought up a recent study showing harmful effects of seismic testing on zooplankton, the basis of the oceanic food chain. To support his statements, the congressman introduced a letter from dozens of North Atlantic right whale scientists and a study from Shell Oil Company. Conversely, Dr. James H. Knapp (Professor, School of the Earth, Ocean, & Environment, University of South Carolina) said of marine mammals and microorganisms, “there is yet to be conclusive evidence coming forward that there is demonstrable damage to any of those communities on a long-term basis.” President Trump is attempting to remove blocks on seismic testing put in place by the Obama administration.

In addition to seismic testing, the act of drilling itself was also disputed. Ms. Howell brought with her binders of letters of opposition from both Republican and Democratic constituents in her community opposed to drilling. She explained that coastal economies in the Atlantic depend upon a healthy coastline for fisheries, tourism, and recreation, and these communities would take on risk from leaks and spills if the OCS were leased for oil production. On the contrary, in the Gulf of Mexico, Ms. Lori LeBlanc (Director, Offshore Committee, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association) highlighted the ability of her home state to balance energy production with environmental stewardship, where recreational fishing and beach going remain popular pastimes. Representative Anthony Brown (MD-4) brought up the “all of the above” approach to energy suggested by the administration, stressing that Maryland is looking to renewables rather than fossil fuels for their future in energy production. This exploratory hearing on offshore oil and gas development showcased both economic benefits and growing concerns over OCS drilling and seismic testing.