Delaware has become the latest state to take a hard line against offshore fossil fuel efforts, with a bipartisan push to protect the coastal state’s waters from oil and gas development.
Two bills allowing Delaware to both withhold permits from oil and gas drillers offshore and pursue legal action against them were signed into law on Thursday by Gov. John Carney (D).
Both bills enforce Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act, which already prohibits new activities like drilling in the state’s waters. Senate Bill 200 allows the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to refuse the permits while Senate Bill 207 authorizes Delaware’s Department of Justice to sue over action in waters further away from the coast.
The legislation also hopes to protect against the fact that most oil and gas drilling occurs farther away from Delaware’s coast in federal waters — Delaware’s waters only extend three miles offshore. The Interior Department signaled in January that nearly all of the country’s federal waters will be open to offshore drilling between 2019 and 2024, including the Outer Continental Shelf off Delaware’s coast.
A handful of state Republicans voted against one or both of the Delaware bills, but opposition to offshore drilling runs deep in both parties.
“Our beaches belong to us and they’re not here for the taking,” said Sen. Ernie Lopez, a Republican who sponsored one bill. “Together we make that unequivocal by clearly stating no drilling today, no drilling tomorrow, no drilling ever on our coastlines.”
Carney signed the bills in Rehoboth Beach on the area’s boardwalk, not far from Cape Henlopen State Park. The governor noted Delaware’s bipartisan consensus on offshore drilling as he gave the legislation his signature.
“I also had this real feeling of Delaware coming over me as I thought about everybody who’s sitting here; Democrats and Republicans, town people, county people and state officials,” he said. “And we’re all standing up and we’re saying no.”
Opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to open the Atlantic Ocean up for drilling have been widespread. All East Coast state governors, with the exception of Maine’s Paul LePage, a Republican, have expressed dissent, with several seeking exemptions for their states.
Drilling opponents have widely pointed to the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill, which released nearly 5 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That spill, the worst in U.S. history, impacts the Gulf Coast to this day and the region is still grappling with the disaster’s health and environmental ramifications.
A number of lawmakers have sought to protect their states through legislation in Congress, working across the aisle to do so. Reps. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced a joint rejection of offshore drilling in June. This was part of an effort to prevent the Interior Department from “issuing leases for the exploration, development or production of oil and gas” on the Outer Continental Shelf. Both Virginia and North Carolina are among the states that would be impacted by drilling off of the coast in that area.
Some states are also taking matters into their own hands without federal assistance. New Jersey passed the nation’s most aggressive legislation on offshore drilling in April, with only one lawmaker opposing the effort. On the West Coast, California followed suit earlier this month, prohibiting new leases for oil and gas projects off the state’s coast.
In lieu of offshore oil and gas drilling, several coastal states including New York and New Jersey are eyeing investment in offshore wind farms instead. While fisherman have raised concerns about such efforts, proponents argue offshore wind could be a vital energy source, in addition to potentially helping protect coastlines from hurricanes.