Dewey Beach Commissioners Cast Vote in Opposition to Offshore Dr - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Dewey Beach Commissioners Cast Vote in Opposition to Offshore Drilling, Seismic Testing

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

DEWEY BEACH, Del.- The list gets even longer on Delmarva. Yet another town is now voicing concerns over offshore drilling and seismic testing. This time it's the commissioners of Dewey Beach, which have formally voted to oppose the federal proposal.

The local opposition first began in September, when Ocean City, Md. voted to oppose the drilling and seismic testing. Lewes, Del. followed suit in November, casting a similar vote. Now Dewey Beach has joined the trend as well. Across the eastern coast, there are at least 93 municipalities which have cast a vote in opposition. That includes Virginia Beach, which made a complete reversal in it policy, since a vote of support in 2010.

Dewey Beach Mayor Diane Hanson said she is concerned about what the seismic testing could do to marine life and the tourism industry as a whole.

"The seismic testing is just the beginning," she said. "Because the next step is drilling oil. And once you start drilling oil, you have potential for all sorts of things with oil spills and so forth. And if we had an oil spill here, that would be the end of our economy."

The national debate all began in January, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency, released its latest draft of the Continental Shelf Five-Year-Plan. The plan called for increased off-shore drilling as close as 50 miles offshore, in various regions, including off of Delmarva. Delaware's ocean is not included in that list, according to Matt Heim, from the Assateague Coastal Trust. However, he said that Delaware communities are concerned because nearby coasts of Maryland and Virginia are both included.

In the initial January report, the Department of the Interior called this proposal a part of President Obama's "All-of-the-Above" strategy in tackling the country's energy problems.

"The safe and responsible development of our nation's domestic energy resources," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "Is a key part of the President's efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently in the public comment phase, in deciding where drilling should be allowed. It is expected to release an updated draft by March, 2016, and a final version by "late-2016." Hanson said she is hopeful that these town votes will have an impact on the end result.

"The more our local municipalities voice their opposition to this," she said. "I think the more likely (it will be) to effect a decision in Washington. Whether they do this or not."

For many of the Delaware communities, including Dewey Beach, the concerns have been about seismic testing on its own, as well as the drilling itself. Seismic testing is a type of oil exploration, where sound is blasted into the ocean in order to map out the sea floor. According to Suzanne Thurman, from the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute in Lewes, the seismic blasts measure at approximately 190 decibels, but are amplified to 245 in the water. She said that this is equivalent to the sound of a "jet's engine starting in the same room as you." 

"It's a very serious situation," she said. "And the impacts of seismic testing marine life can be as extreme as causing fatalities. Or causing permanent or temporary hearing loss."

At Woody's, bartender Jacob Barr said that he is vehemently opposed to both seismic testing and offshore drilling, because of the way it may impact tourism in the area.

"I can't see how anyone in a coastal community," he said. "Like we (have), could stand for something like this. Especially after what we've seen in the Gulf. Why would we want to bring that upon ourselves in the area."

As Dewey Beach joins Ocean City and Lewes in opposition, a great deal more may be on the way. Both Rehoboth Beach and Fenwick Island have discussed the proposal, and have put further discussion on their agenda's for January. Heim said he believed momentum is building for the anti-drilling movement, due to dropping oil prices, and high-profile spills, like the one in the Gulf of Mexico. 

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