Eight Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation wrote President Obama Monday urging him to reconsider his administration's plan to allow seismic testing for oil and gas off the mid-Atlantic coast.
In a jointly signed letter, the eight called seismic testing the first major step toward opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling, which carries the risk of oil spills. But they warned that the tests themselves would be "incredibly harmful to marine mammals and fisheries in the region," generating "dynamite-like" blasts of compressed air underwater that could hurt whales, dolphins and fish.
According to the Department of Interior's estimates, they said, the use of air guns for testing would injure about 138,000 marine mammals and disrupt their feeding, calving, breeding and other activities.
Signing the letter were Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, who have long made known their opposition to testing and drilling off the Atlantic. Joining them were Reps. Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen, John Sarbanes, Donna F. Edwards and John K. Delaney.
Not signing the letter were Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, and Rep. Andy Harris, the state's long Republican member of Congress, whose 1st District encompasses Maryland's Atlantic shore. Mariel Saez, Hoyer's press secretary, said he supports testing to update an assessment that's more than 30 years old of how much oil and gas could be off the Atlantic Coast. The testing also can help with siting offshore renewable energy projects, she said.
"He recognizes the risks of seismic air guns and believes the administration should ensure that appropriate environmental controls are in place when this testing method is used," Hoyer's spokeswoman said.
Harris could not be reached for comment, but last year he signed a letter with 41 other member of Congress supporting "safe, environmentally protective seismic assessment" of oil and gas resources off the Atlantic.