During a Natural Resources Committee markup today, Congressman John Sarbanes offered an amendment to prevent offshore drilling near the Chesapeake Bay. The amendment would have eliminated a section of H.R. 3410, the Energy Security and Transportation Jobs Act, which would require lease sales for oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula. The amendment failed by a vote of 12 to 25.
"The Chesapeake Bay is a national environmental treasure and an economic catalyst for the Mid-Atlantic region's tourism and seafood industries," said Congressman Sarbanes. "This bill would jeopardize the health of the Bay in pursuit of an inconsequential oil supply. The risk is not worth the reward."
After the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Obama Administration halted plans to allow drilling near the Chesapeake Bay. The Republican legislation would reverse that decision and require lease sales that could lead to drilling in the vicinity of the Chesapeake Bay. The legislation will now move out of the Committee in preparation for a vote on the House floor.
"As the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico vividly demonstrated, offshore drilling operations can never eliminate the risk of a major disaster," said Sarbanes. "The untold damage being done to marine ecosystems, fishing and tourism industries, and the Gulf economy would wreak havoc on our region if a similar disaster occurred near the Chesapeake Bay."
The offshore parcel under consideration, also called Lease Sale 220, is located 50 miles off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to concerns related to the Chesapeake Bay, the area infringes on critical training areas for the U.S. Navy. The Department of Defense concluded that over 78% of the Lease 220 area would occur in areas where military operations would be impeded by drilling structures and related activities. In the remaining 22% of the lease area, major commercial shipping channels for Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay would conflict with drilling operations. If those restrictions are accounted for, then the amount of recoverable resources for this parcel drops to 13 million barrels of oil and 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas according to federal regulators, not even enough to meet the U.S.'s need for one day.