Ocean City Today

State offshore drilling bills nearing passage

By Greg Ellison | Mar 29, 2018
Source: File Photo

(March 30, 2018) Legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that would make the state’s opposition to offshore oil and gas development official has passed the Senate and was expected to pass in the House of Delegates Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38), the Offshore Drilling Liability Act and a joint resolution expressing opposition cleared the Senate unanimously last Monday. The House, which passed a similar measure by 115-22, was scheduled to vote Thursday on amended legislation that brings the two versions together.

On Jan. 4, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a draft proposal for its 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which would open more than 98 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf for potential oil and gas leases. Three proposed lease areas are off the coast of Maryland.

“We’re in overdrive and we’ve got 10 days remaining with vitally important business before us to protect the beaches of Maryland,” Mathias said.

Mathias, along with 41 co-sponsors, is backing a joint resolution asking the federal government to give Maryland the same consideration it gave to Florida, which less than a week after January’s draft proposal announcement was removed from the list.

“The joint resolution asks the president, U.S. Congress and the Department of the Interior to stop this moving forward, or at a minimum have us removed,” he said.

Within a week of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management releasing a draft proposal for the leasing program in January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acquiesced to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had concerns comparable to those of many Maryland state officials, and tweeted later the state is, ‘unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’ Following the announcement, a dozen other states sought the same relief.

If the resolution fails to prevent offshore drilling, Mathias said the Liability Act would establish strict liability standards for accidents resulting from offshore oil or gas drilling operations. It would also remove Maryland’s current cap of $100,000, established in 2015, for defendants appeal bonds, which would make obtaining insurance for drilling projects offshore difficult.

“Strict liability is the safety net we have to have in case Washington doesn’t hear us,” he said. “It is intended to hold the federal government financially accountable if offshore drilling caused a natural disaster.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Draft Proposed Program is the first of three analytical phases required to develop its 2019-2024 leasing program. The 60-day period for public comment for phase one ended on March 9.

For general information or to submit comments visit boem.gov/national-program or send mail to: National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program Development Manager Kelly Hammerle, Office of Strategic Resources, Mail Stop: VAM-LD, 45600 Woodland Road, Sterling, VA 20166-9216. Label envelopes, “Comments for the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.”

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