January 23, 2018

Floor Statement on Offshore Drilling

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I will take this time to go over with my colleagues the reasons why I unequivocally oppose the Trump administration’s decision to allow oil and gas drilling along our Atlantic coast.

There are many reasons why I oppose this policy. One is that the risk to the environment is too great. The Atlantic coast contains some of the most pristine coastlines in America. This region is very much aware of the importance of the Chesapeake Bay and how fragile the Chesapeake Bay is and what an oil-spill off the coast of the Atlantic could do to the Chesapeake Bay. There are also reasons to oppose this because, quite frankly, the amount of suspected reserves are just not great enough to warrant this risk. We also know that already there are significant lands that have been devoted and are available for oil exploration that will meet our needs, but a lot of it has not even been explored yet because of the current economic realities.

Lastly, when we are talking about an energy policy that makes sense for our country, exploring for new oil off the coast of the Atlantic makes no sense whatsoever. In November 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wisely did not include any parcels in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf in the 2017–2022 plan to lease offshore land the Federal Government controls.

The following month, former President Obama used his authority under section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 to withdraw unleased Outer Continental Shelf lands from future lease sales. This makes sense.

In June of 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that U.S. oil output will hit 10 million barrels per day in 2018, breaking the all-time 1970 record—all without drilling off the Chesapeake Bay. The previous record was 9.6 million barrels a day in 1970.

So we are at a record pace on bringing oil out of the ground. Yet we take a look at the amount of oil that is projected to be available for exploration off the Atlantic Coast, and it is a relatively small amount. When we recognize the risk, it is just not worth the risk to explore for that amount of oil with the potential of causing devastation to our environment.

Last March, officials from the Spanish oil company Repsol and its privately held U.S. partner Armstrong Energy announced the discovery of 1.2 billion barrels of oil in Alaska’s North Slope, which was previously viewed as an aging oil basin. That amount exceeds the projected entire reserves along the Atlantic coast. Production could begin as soon as 2021 and lead to as much as 120,000 barrels of output per day. This is the biggest onshore discovery of conventional oil in the United States in three decades.

In addition to these massive onshore discoveries, as of fiscal year 2016—the last year for which data is available— only 47 percent of the public lands already held by oil and gas industries are under production. In other words, half the lands are still yet to be produced. The industry also has a glut of drilling permits, with more than 7,900 approved but unused permits on the book. In fiscal year 2016, the Bureau of Land Management issued 2,184 drilling permits, of which only 847 were used by the industry. So they have a big backlog. They don’t need another area to explore.

As the Wilderness Society reported last month, leasing more lands than industry could possibly develop or seems interested in developing allows companies to stockpile land while they wait for a more favorable market, but stockpiling prevents these lands from being used for popular pastimes like hunting, fishing, hiking, and conservation, while leaving them open to the risk of drilling.

There is an Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf site known as lease sale 220. It has been proposed for oil and gas development previously. Lease sale 220 is located off the shore of Virginia. It is a 2.9 million-acre, triangle-shaped site. NOAA tells us that 72 percent of the time the prevailing winds in this region blow toward or along the coast—72 percent of the time. Coupled with the way the Gulf Stream flows and local currents, if lease sale 220 is developed and there is an oil-spill, the likelihood of oil washing up on the shores of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the Outer Banks is quite high. The mouth of the Chesapeake Bay is just 50 miles away from this site. It is hard enough just dealing with the existing pollutants that come into the bay from agriculture, development, and storm runoff. Add oil into the mix, and it would set us back decades in order to restart our oyster crops and help our watermen with blue crabs and to help the rock fish return and thrive.

We have spent a lot of energy in the U.S. Congress as a Federal partner with the Chesapeake Bay Program. I remember my days in the State legislature where Governor Hughes provided the leadership for the development of the Chesapeake Bay Program. We worked with governments from six States and the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and private sector partners—all so we could preserve and reclaim the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure. It has been declared so by many Presidents. We spent a lot of effort. We asked our farmers to do more. We asked our developers to do more. We asked our local governments, in the way they treat their wastewater, to do more. Now, if we allow drilling off the Atlantic coast, all that effort could be put at risk.

Drilling off the coast of Maryland would interfere with our naval Atlantic Test Range, preventing our military from developing next-generation fighter aircraft, sensors, and weapons to keep us safe. We have a large military presence along the Atlantic coast.

Adding insult to injury—or, perhaps I should say, heaping injury on top of injury, this move to open up the Atlantic coast to drilling came just 1 week after President Trump repealed safety regulations President Obama implemented to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster. Deepwater Horizon was a $600 million state-of-the-art rig, but it failed, causing the greatest accidental oil-spill in history. Eleven crewmen lost their lives. Up to 4.9 million barrels of oil gushed from the broken well for more than 3 months, eventually fouling over 570 miles of gulf shoreline and killing thousands of birds and other marine life.

The long-term effects of the oil-spill and the 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used on it remain unknown, but experts say they could devastate the gulf coast for many years or even decades. Dolphins continue to die, fish are showing strange lesions, coral in the gulf have died, and oil still remains in some marsh areas. The oil could remain in the food chain for generations to come. An oil-spill entering the Chesapeake Bay would be a similar disaster. Whatever happened to Interior Secretary Zinke’s promise during his confirmation process to be highly mindful of local input when managing public lands and waters? Opponents of offshore drilling flooded the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with more than a half million comments. The list of opponents included more than 1,200 local, State, and Federal officials, including the Governors of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, and Washington; more than 150 coastal municipalities; and an alliance of more than 41,000 businesses and 50,000 fishing families. President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke cavalierly ignored the widespread public opposition to expanded offshore drilling and the time and effort the public dedicated to making their dissenting voices heard.

It is reckless, even wanton, to jeopardize so much—the livelihood of those who depend on fishing and tourist industries, our fisheries, and our military readiness—along the Maryland coast and Chesapeake Bay when there is so much more oil and gas in other parts of the country where production is already well established and locally supported.

My concerns aren’t limited to the Chesapeake Bay or Maryland’s beautiful coastline, even though both are priceless national, not parochial, natural resources. The international scientific consensus regarding human contributions to climate change is clear. Greenhouse gas emissions are a huge problem. Yet the Trump administration is determined to double down on burning fossil fuels when we need to be diminishing, not increasing, our reliance on them. Instead of promoting an energy policy for the 21st century, President Trump is pushing policies from the early 20th century. This isn’t just ill-advised, it is deadly. We have little time to lose when it comes to cutting fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Politico recently reported:

Last year was the third hottest on record in 125 years of record-keeping, and the U.S. faced record-breaking losses from weather and climate disasters. . . . A NOAA study found that hurricanes, wildfires and other events did $306 billion worth of damage to the U.S. economy, factoring in destroyed property and lost business activity in affected areas. . . .

The most expensive storm of 2017 was Hurricane Harvey, with an estimated $125 billion in costs, followed by Hurricane Maria at $90 billion and Hurricane Irma at $50 billion. As for wildfires, they burned through more than 9.8 million acres in the West and caused close to $18 billion in damage, tripling the previous record. The U.S. in total saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1 billion each in 2017, tying a record set in 2011 for most billion-dollar disasters in a single year.

NOAA scientists also found the five warmest years on record for the U.S. all have occurred since 2006.

For all these reasons, I urge President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke to reverse course on this ill-begotten plan immediately. What we really need is a permanent moratorium on oil and gas drilling off our Atlantic coast. The potential rewards of such drilling—problematic as they are— don’t come anywhere close to equaling the risks to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s and our Nation’s irreplaceable shorelines and coastal communities.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.