Ocean City Today

Mathias pushes legislation against offshore oil drilling

Former OC mayor sponsors liability act and resolution looking to protect coastline
By Greg Ellison | Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) is promoting legislation opposing oil and gas drilling off the coast of Ocean City.

(March 9, 2018) With proposed offshore oil and gas drilling setting off alarms in Ocean City, Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) has joined an effort to block such exploration off the coast and to make the federal government pay if that doesn’t happen and something goes wrong.

Mathias is the sole sponsor of SB1128 the Offshore Drilling Liability Act, and the primary sponsor for a General Assembly joint resolution seeking to protect Maryland’s coastal area from oil and gas energy exploration. Both pieces of legislation are scheduled for senate hearings on March 13.

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.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have this session for Ocean City and coastal Maryland,” Mathias said.

From his perspective, Mathias foresees astronomical risks that far outweigh any reward.

“Not one good thing comes out of this,” he said. “It can be devastating, as much or more so, than a category 5 hurricane.”

On Feb. 20, the mayor and City Council issued its own resolution against offshore drilling, which was first opposed in 1974 by then Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelly.

Mathias also has joined 41 co-sponsors who are supporting 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.

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 protecting the coast fails, Mathias said SB1128 is intended to hold the federal government financially accountable, up to $100 million, if offshore drilling caused a natural disaster.

“If congress would act in a reckless manner and let this go forward, the legislation establishes strict liability penalties,” he said.

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 ends today (Friday).

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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