Lopez files bill to prohibit drilling in Delaware waters

To protect Delaware’s tourism industry from potential damage, Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, has filed legislation to ban offshore drilling within Delaware’s coastal zone.

“The risk of environmental damage from offshore drilling far outweighs any benefit to consumers in Delaware,” Lopez said. “It is imperative that we are very clear in this case. We will protect our shoreline and our waters.”

The Trump administration announced in January a plan to open up most offshore waters to drilling. In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review, and possibly reverse, former President Barack Obama’s offshore drilling ban.

Following the announcement, Zinke almost immediately agreed to exempt Florida, a state where Trump frequently visits his own waterfront estate. Other states cried favoritism and clamored for exemptions, but none were addressed. Delaware was one.

“The governor’s office has been reaching out to Department of the Interior and not getting a lot of feedback,” Lopez said.

With the door closed, Delaware and other states started looking for an open window, and they may have found it in the Submerged Land Act of 1953, which gave states ownership of all submerged land within 3 nautical miles of shore.

Lopez’s Senate Bill 200 would add a provision to Title 7 of the Delaware Code that prohibits offshore drilling in Delaware waters for oil and natural gas. In a move modeled after a similar New Jersey bill, it would also prohibit permits from being issued “for or in connection with the development or operation of any facility or infrastructure associated with offshore drilling for oil or natural gas, whether proposed for within or outside of Delaware’s territorial waters.”

The prohibition of infrastructure like pipelines within the coastal zone could deter energy companies from drilling further offshore.

“We feel it’s important to make a strong statement,” Lopez said.

States take action

Opposition to offshore drilling within government is a bipartisan movement in virtually every coastal state. Lopez’s bill has wide bipartisan support and is cosponsored by senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle.

“We have tremendous support,” Lopez said.

New Jersey recently banned offshore drilling and any related infrastructure. California has banned offshore drilling for decades and is threatening to ban drilling infrastructure on its shores.

Maryland, with only a slim chance of being an offshore drilling candidate due to a lack of known oil resources, has passed a bill that would impose strict liability on energy companies drilling offshore.

The bill has been assigned to the Natural Resources Committee and will be heard on June 6. Assuming it’s released, Lopez expects it to come to a vote very quickly.

Citizens opposed

Marine Research and Rehabilitation Institute in Lewes is among the citizen groups opposing offshore drilling, as potential oil spills and seismic testing would have a deleterious effect on marine life.

“I chose to live where I do because I enjoy the environmental resources available to me and am ever-mindful of the delicate balance of my life and the life within the ocean,” said MERR Board of Directors member Rob Rector. “Any drilling, or testing for drilling, would drastically upset that balance and potentially destroy my entire reason for where I chose to spend my life to raise a family.”

About 100 people, many MERR members, took part in the “Hands Across the Sea” event on May 19 in Rehoboth Beach. At noon, participants joined hands and stood in a line along the beach as part of a worldwide protest that included 18 states and eight countries. Hands Across the Sea began in 2010 following the historically disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Oceana, seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic could injure 138,000 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more. Since marine animals rely so heavily on their hearing, seismic blasts can cause abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings and death.