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Offshore drilling plan gets cold reception in Delaware

Dover, Del. - When President Barack Obama announced March 31 he had authorized plans to move forward with oil and natural gas exploration off the Atlantic coast, he touted it as a way to responsibly and carefully put the country on track to using less foreign oil.

However, Delaware officials and local conservation groups withheld support for the president's plan, at the very least expressing concern over the possible impacts of oil drilling, and at most condemning the plan outright.

As outlined by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the plan permits the Department of the Interior to move forward with leasing parcels of underwater real estate to oil drillers over the next seven years.

The first such lease sale is scheduled for late 2011 or early 2012 and applies only to a small triangle of seafloor off the coast of Virginia. That territory is part of the department's 2007-2012 five-year leasing plan, developed during the Bush administration but stymied by a Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling in place until 2008.

Ocean bottom off the coast from Delaware to Florida is included in the 2012-2017 five-year plan, which still is under development.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Dover, Del. - When President Barack Obama announced March 31 he had authorized plans to move forward with oil and natural gas exploration off the Atlantic coast, he touted it as a way to responsibly and carefully put the country on track to using less foreign oil.

However, Delaware officials and local conservation groups withheld support for the president's plan, at the very least expressing concern over the possible impacts of oil drilling, and at most condemning the plan outright.

As outlined by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the plan permits the Department of the Interior to move forward with leasing parcels of underwater real estate to oil drillers over the next seven years.

The first such lease sale is scheduled for late 2011 or early 2012 and applies only to a small triangle of seafloor off the coast of Virginia. That territory is part of the department's 2007-2012 five-year leasing plan, developed during the Bush administration but stymied by a Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling in place until 2008.

Ocean bottom off the coast from Delaware to Florida is included in the 2012-2017 five-year plan, which still is under development.

Before lease sale locations are determined, the DOI needs to conduct geologic surveys to determine how much oil and gas is beneath the seafloor and where it is located.

After that, the department will put together a plan for dividing the most viable areas for lease sales.

At each step in the process, the DOI drafts environmental impact studies and solicits comments from state governments, private groups and citizens.

Right now, the DOI is working on its environmental impact study in advance of the exploration, said Nick Pardi, spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, a division of the department.

Even though the DOI has some idea of the petroleum reserves in the region, the data is not exactly current.

"We will be conducting geological and geophysical studies in the Atlantic and we're working on the environmental impact now," Pardi said. "The last surveys conducted in the area are about 25 years old. You can kind of think of the computer you were using at that time, how much technology has changed."

Based on the old information, current models have projected the Mid-Atlantic region, from Delaware to South Carolina, may contain as many as 1 billion barrels of oil.

That's less than one-seventh of the total amount of oil consumed in the United States in a year.

Many groups use those estimates as a departure for criticism.

"The Delaware Nature Society does not believe offshore drilling will have any sort of impact on gas prices, but it potentially could have a negative impact on our coastal environment and wildlife," said Brenna Goggin, an environmental advocate with the Nature Society.

Debbie Heaton, conservation chair with the Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club, said the oil is not only estimated to be a small quantity, but the timeline doesn't have wells flowing until almost a decade from now.

"We just don't see the reason for expanding the exploration into some of these delicate marine areas, we think the real goal should be working on clean energy, that's where the future lies," she said. "The fuel that would be derived from this exploration wouldn't hit your pump for five or 10 years."

Conservation groups are ready to fight the exploration phase of the plan, which some believe can be extremely harmful to marine life. A significant part of the geologic study of the rock beneath the seabed is conducted using acoustical seismic mapping.

To conduct the mapping, ships tow long arrays of acoustic sources and sensors.

The sources produce low frequency, high-intensity sound waves that penetrate the ocean floor and produce echoes that indicate what the rock is made of or contains.

These sounds, generated by high-pressure air guns, are believed to have a detrimental effect on sea creatures, especially whales and other animals sensitive to sound.

In its own description of the process, the DOI indicates that seismic exploration can be harmful to the environment.

"Seismic surveys ... have the potential for ‘significant' impacts on the environment, unless mitigation and monitoring measures to reduce or eliminate impacts to the environment are applied," reads a memo issued by the department in January 2009. "Further, there are increasing concerns in the regulatory and scientific communities regarding acoustic impacts on marine life, including marine mammals, turtles and fishes."

But it's not just environmentalist groups that have reacted negatively to the plan.

"We have significant concerns," said Collin O'Mara, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "We have concerns about the environmental impact on water quality, on fisheries. We also have concerns about the potential impact on offshore wind, on competition. We have concerns about potential impacts on the tourism industry."

O'Mara said the state has dedicated a lot of time and effort into a deal with NRG Bluewater Wind to set up an array of wind turbines off the coast for generating electricity, and he wants to make certain that any plans for drilling won't interfere.

Even though the wind farm would only be 12 miles from shore, compared to 50 miles for oil rigs, the details haven't been worked out.

"For the most part offshore drilling and tends to occur 50, 75 or 100 miles offshore, in very deep water. However, this wasn't completely clear in the announcements that have been made so far, so we want to make sure that is clarified, because we don't want competition between ExxonMobil and Bluewater Wind," O'Mara said.

Even if there are no conflicts, O'Mara added that the administration still isn't too receptive to the drilling plan.

Gov. Jack Markell's response was equally guarded. He said the state government will be an active participant in the process moving forward, and he still has many questions he wants answered.

"We want to take a thoughtful and measured look at what the president is proposing," he said. "We understand his rationale and we want to make sure the environmental concerns are addressed; we want to make sure opportunities for offshore wind are protected. We're going to look closely at its effect on our coastal areas."


Source: http://www.communitypub.com...

APR 13 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/25647-offshore-drilling-plan-gets-cold-reception-in-delaware
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