The ocean waters off the mouth of the Chesapeake are as much a part of the Bay system as all the freshwater rivers that feed it. Our treasured blue crab illustrates the connectivity between the Bay and the ocean—90 percent of the blue crab population lives in the waters off the mouth of the Chesapeake during their early life cycle. Crab larvae can float miles out into the ocean in the top centimeter of the water column (vulnerable to even the smallest oil spill) after they are spawned at the mouth of the Bay.
When it comes to offshore oil drilling, spills happen. On average, spills from platforms, pipelines, tankers, and coastal facilities release 157,000 barrels of oil every year. Normal operations also release pollution into the air. Exploration and drilling at the platform, transportation via tankers, and refining on land all can release volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases, and other air pollutants.
But most feared is a major oil spill off the mouth of the Bay. The devastating impact of a major spill would harm more than just the Bay's blue crab population. Consequences could include:
- poisoned and debilitated oysters, fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and other wildlife;
- devastated wetlands, beaches, and mudflats;
- jeopardized commercial fishing, recreation, and tourist economies;
- new and/or increased dead zones;
- release of considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.
While all the Bay's great tributaries are an integral part of the Chesapeake system, so too are the offshore ocean waters, which account for more inflow to the Bay than all its rivers combined.
The Bay is on a path toward recovery as a result of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Now is not the time to gamble our renewable aquatic resources for a single non-renewable petroleum source.
It's far more prudent to meet our energy needs by pursuing energy efficiency and conservation now, and developing wind, solar, and other renewable sources for the future.