Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has registered his "strong opposition" to permitting oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast, warning it could harm Maryland's beaches and the Chesapeake Bay.
In comments filed with the U.S Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Frosh said exploration and drilling along the coast south of Maryland threaten the state's "irreplaceable natural resources" and "could wreak havoc on coastal communities for hundreds of miles.
"Regional economies based on tourism, recreation and fishing would be at risk," he cautioned.
Frosh joins Maryland's two U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, in objecting to the Obama administration's proposal to open the Atlantic for the first time in decades to offshore drilling. Monday is the final day for public comments on the plan.
The federal agency's five-year plan for leasing in the Atlantic does not include any waters off Maryland, stretching instead from Virginia south to the Florida border. But Frosh suggested spills and other impacts could spread to Maryland's coast and into the bay.
"As history shows, the impacts of drilling for oil and gas are widespread, severe and do not respect state boundaries," Frosh said. He recalled that the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill off Louisiana in 2010 spread for hundreds of miles, impacting the coastlines of other Gulf of Mexico states.
Former Gov. Martin O'Malley also has spoken out against drilling in the Atlantic, but so far his Republican successor, Gov. Larry Hogan, has taken no position. A Hogan spokeswoman said earlier this month that he was "in a listening and learning mode."
Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore, has said he supports anything to boost America's energy independence as long as it can be done safely.
As a state legislator before being elected attorney general, Frosh sponsored a law banning drilling in the Chesapeake Bay. In his comments on the federal drilling plan, he noted that the attorney general's office is charged with enforcing state environmental laws, as well as representing the state's interest in federal decisions that affect Maryland's environment.
The ocean energy bureau plans to review public comments before deciding in coming months whether to go forward with offering offshore leases in the Atlantic as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.
The ocean energy bureau is currently weighing requests to conduct seismic surveys along the Atlantic coast now to develop better information on what oil or gas may be found there.
Echoing concerns voiced by environmental groups, Frosh said that even those surveys pose unacceptable risks to marine mammals, fish and other creatures on the ocean floor. He contended it would be "irresponsible and premature" to permit exploration before more is known about the density and distribution of whales, dolphins and other marine animals off the coast.