DOVER – A bipartisan pair of bills passed by the state Senate yesterday would implement new restrictions on offshore drilling.
The Trump administration moved in January to open nearly all offshore waters to gas and oil exploration, reversing a policy of the Obama administration. At the time, a letter of opposition to Trump’s proposal was signed by 17 Democratic state legislators.
Senate Bill 207, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, would require state agencies to review offshore oil and gas exploration leases along Delaware’s coast to the extent permitted under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and all pertinent state laws.
Hansen says her legislation aims to protect Delaware’s environment as well as its economy.
“Washington, DC may have forgotten disasters like those in the Gulf, Alaska, and Santa Barbara - but I haven't, and neither have bipartisan leaders across our state,” said Sen. Hansen. “Delaware’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country, are home to a unique marine ecosystem, and are vital to tourism, our state’s fourth-largest private employer. That industry alone supports $7 billion in economic activity and reduces the average Delawarean’s tax burden by more than $1,400. It takes just one accident to change all of that overnight. Our economy, our budget, and our environment can’t afford that mistake. Standing against offshore drilling is a no-brainer for Delaware, I’m grateful to my colleagues in both parties for standing with me.”
SB 207 specifically directs the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to enforce Delaware’s rights under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The CZMA gives states a role in federal planning and permitting decisions that affect their state. In particular, the CZMA provides for consistency reviews, which require activities that are carried out or approved by the federal government and that impact a state’s coastal zone to comply with the state’s coastal laws and policies, including the state’s coastal management program.
SB 207 also includes a formal statement of opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed offshore drilling plan.
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing something as reckless as opening 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to drilling. But that’s the world we live in today. We’ve already seen coastal states petition the federal government to get an exception to this disastrous rule, and Delaware should receive the same consideration,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “Our economy relies on our waterways and coastline, both for fishing and for tourism. Delaware has fewer than 1 million residents, but we draw millions each year to visit our beaches. An offshore drilling mishap – even a small one – could be catastrophic for our economy and our environment, and irreparably damage our quality of life.”
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, which explicitlyprohibits drilling for oil or natural gas in Delaware’s coastal zone and territorial waters and precludes DNREC from issuing any permits in connection with the development of offshore drilling infrastructure. Hansen and Lopez were both co-prime sponsors on one another’s bills.
SB 200 and 207 now head to the House for consideration.