Rehoboth Beach Commissioners Take up Seismic Testing and Offshor - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Rehoboth Beach Commissioners Take up Seismic Testing and Offshore Drilling

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Shot of seagull overlooking Lewes Beach (Photo: Amber Muehlemann, WBOC) Shot of seagull overlooking Lewes Beach (Photo: Amber Muehlemann, WBOC)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del.- Seismic testing and offshore drilling are two concepts that have been discussed quite a bit over the last year in Sussex County. They're ideas that have been formally opposed by countless coastal communities on Delmarva, and now Rehoboth Beach is considering addressing the issue as well.  

At Monday's workshop meeting, the commissioners voted to put a resolution in opposition on the agenda for their next voting meeting, scheduled for Jan. 15. 

Rehoboth Beach would join at least 93 communities across the east coast that have voted in opposition to the federal plan, including Lewes, Dewey Beach, Virginia Beach, Va. and Ocean City, Md. 

The debate all began in January 2015 when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency, released a draft of its Continental Shelf Five-Year-Plan, which called for offshore drilling on the Atlantic Ocean, as close as 50 miles offshore. The drilling would only be allowed from Virginia down to Florida, but has triggered opposition in states like Delaware and Maryland as well, due to the close proximity. 

"Environmentally what if there was a possible spill," said Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Kathy McGuiness. "Imagine how damaging that would be. Not only to our coast and the marine life. But how damaging that would be to Delaware as well. What a hit that would be economically. People would go to other resorts, other beaches." 

Representatives from the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association were at Monday's meeting. The group wrote a letter to the commissioners, asking them to pass a resolution in opposition. 

"We hope that the city sends a message," said Steve Curson, a board member from the Association. "That as a community we are strongly against any seismic testing for oil and gas. We want to preserve our fisheries, and the beach, and the lifestyle that we have out here currently in Rehoboth Beach." 

The plan was released in what has been referred to as President Obama's "all-of-the-above" strategy. When released, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said that finding alternative energy sources was "a key part of the President's efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil." 

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."

WHAT'S NEXT? 

The proposal is currently in the public comment phase, and so people are urged to voice their opinion to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The BOEM is expected to release an updated draft by February or March. At that point, another 90-day public comment period will begin, which will be the public's final opportunity to voice their opinions. 

Matt Heim, from the Assateague Coastal Trust, said that a final draft is set to be released by "late 2016," although an exact date is not clear. Heim said that the final draft will be shown to Congress, which will have 30 days to speak about the results. Finally, the draft will head to the Executive Branch, where Secretary Jewell will sign off on the new plan. 

Heim said that public opinion has changed in many places, like coastal Delaware, due to dropping gas prices and high-profile spills in places like the Gulf of Mexico. Nonetheless, he said that the push for offshore drilling is still evident in states like North Carolina. 

WHO HAS OPPOSED? 

Rehoboth Beach would join a long list of local communities that have voted in opposition. Ocean City passed a resolution in opposition back in September 2015. Lewes and Dewey Beach followed suit with similar votes, soon after. 

Meanwhile countless other communities are considering a similar resolution. Fenwick Island has put a discussion on seismic testing on its agenda for Jan. 22, and Milton has done so for Jan. 11. 

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