We Need a Permanent Moratorium on Drilling off the Atlantic Coast

Commentary by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

Commentary by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. CardinOur nation is currently witnessing what could become the largest, most catastrophic environmental disaster in our history - a disaster that I do not want to see repeated along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, possibly threatening Ocean City, Assateague Island National Seashore, the Chesapeake Bay, and the economic health of Maryland.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 11 workers who died on April 20 when a devastating explosion rocked BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig 50 miles off Louisiana, unleashing an oil spill that is now sending 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico and threatening the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts. Gulf Coast watermen, critical marine and wildlife habitat, and the workers who depend on tourism along Gulf Coast beaches all face catastrophe as the oil drifts to the shore.

This is a tragedy for the Gulf Coast, and it is one that we cannot allow to occur along the Mid-Atlantic Coast.

On March 31, President Obama announced that he would open certain Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas in the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration and development. The tragedy now unfolding along the Gulf Coast makes it clear that too much is at stake to allow such exploration and development along our coast.

Just think what a similar disaster would mean for Maryland and other coastal states. In our State, it would devastate Ocean City’s tourist industry, possibly for years to come. It would devastate much of the marine and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay. And it would destroy the way of life for scores of Maryland watermen and their families. It would be a disaster of unparalleled proportions for the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

In the wake of the BP oil spill disaster, President Obama has indicated he will suspend his plans to pursue oil or gas exploration or development in OCS “frontier areas” such as the Mid-Atlantic pending an investigation into what happened to the Deepwater Horizon rig. That is not good enough. I want a permanent moratorium on any oil or gas drilling off our coast. That’s why I sent a letter to the President – also signed by Senator Mikulski and four other colleagues – calling on him to take his plan to open our region (and the South Atlantic and the Straits of Florida) to OCS drilling off the table.

We cannot drill our way out of the energy crisis we face. The United States has 2-3 percent of the world’s oil reserves, yet we account for 25 percent of the world’s consumption. The Minerals Management Service “National Assessment” estimates that the mostly likely area of drilling off the Virginia/Maryland coasts – known as Lease Sale 220 – may contain 130 million barrels of undiscovered, economically recoverable oil. That’s less than one week of our nation’s oil consumption. But it’s enough to ruin our coast and our Bay. Clearly, the risks outweigh the benefits.

Our nation needs to develop a comprehensive energy policy that makes sense. It must be a policy that rewards conservation, encourages alternative fuels and wisely manages existing fossil fuels.

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