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. This poses an unjustifiable risk to the Bay, our coasts, and the economy.
Placing Wildlife and Our Economy at Risk
The ocean waters off the mouth of the Chesapeake are a critical part of our greater Bay system. Our treasured blue crab illustrates the connectivity between the Bay and the ocean—virtually all of the Bay's blue crab population lives in coastal waters during their early life cycle. Newly spawned crab larvae can float miles out into the ocean in the top centimeter of the water column, making them exceptionally vulnerable to even the smallest oil spill.
Of the utmost concern 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.
Additional Concerns of Offshore Drilling
Normal offshore drilling operations also release toxic pollution into the air and water. 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.
The United States military is a major employer and economic engine for both Maryland and Virginia. Oil production off the Atlantic coast has raised concerns from the Department of Defense because of potential conflicts with military operations.
Impact on Climate Change
Offshore drilling increases our reliance on fossil fuels at a time when we should be turning instead towards renewable energy alternatives, energy efficiencies, and conservation. Climate change, driven in part by perpetuating our dependence on oil and gas, is a pressing problem for the Chesapeake Bay and all those who live in the region.
- Heavier rainfall and more intense storms, due in part to climate change, lead to more polluted runoff, threatening the progress made so far in reducing pollution to the Bay.
- Warmer waters hold less dissolved oxygen, exacerbating fish-killing dead zones and contributing to algal blooms.
- Temperature changes affect key species like eelgrass and striped bass, impacting not only the species themselves but the commercial fisheries that are integral to the region’s economy.
- Sea level rise is already threatening communities around the Bay, from Annapolis to Hampton Roads to the Eastern Shore to Tangier Island.
Seismic Testing: A Dangerous Stepping Stone
In November of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service authorized five companies to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast to survey oil and gas reserves. These tests involve sending pressurized seismic air-gun blasts through the water, using the sound waves to see what’s below the ocean floor.
Cities across the region have voted to oppose offshore drilling and the governors of both Virginia and Maryland are against drilling off their coasts. Allowing seismic testing establishes an unacceptable foothold for the oil and gas industries, a stepping stone towards the very drilling our communities are fighting to prevent.
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.