Late last year the Obama administration banned offshore oil and gas drilling on millions of acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, including areas near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In this space, we welcomed the decision but added that, in light of the recent presidential election, it might be "no more than a sand castle fated to be washed away by the incoming tide."
Sometimes being prescient is no fun.
In April, the Trump administration told the secretary of the interior to review the Obama administration plan on where offshore drilling can take place. Also ordered: a review of the safety regulations imposed after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. That catastrophe started an oil spill that contaminated 57,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico and did close to $1 billion of damage to the region's commercial fisheries and recreational industry.
This week came word that the administration — specifically the National Marine Fisheries Service — is seeking permits to let five energy companies use air guns for seismic surveys in the Atlantic, from Delaware to Central Florida. Such surveys produce other sorts of information, but it's fair to say the main objective is to pinpoint locations for oil and gas exploration.
Environmentalists, as the Associated Press reported, loathe the use of the air guns, which they say create a nonstop racket that can be heard up to 2,500 miles away and can disturb, injure or kill whales and other marine life. Industry groups counter that the technique has been used for decades without documented proof of the harm the environmentalists allege.
But even if the surveying technology were benign, what would happen if exploitable oil and gas reserves are found off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay? Given Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric about opening vast new swaths of America's land and water to oil and gas drilling, there's little question about what he would like to see happen.
But Maryland is not likely to see much economic gain from such activity and could suffer an enormous blow if, say, a Deepwater Horizon-sized oil spill shuttered Ocean City or wiped out a year's worth of blue crabs, whose larvae drift far out into the ocean. Moreover, we're not sure what more an offshore drilling boom is expected to do for "Saudi America," the nation that, largely thanks to fracking, has been No. 1 in the world for oil and natural gas production for five years in a row. Any oil and gas from offshore wells would likely be destined for export.
Gov. Larry Hogan is hosting leaders from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware for the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program's executive council. No doubt the Trump administration's attempt to zero out the program's budget tops the agenda. But the move back toward offshore oil exploration, and how to respond to it, should give the participants something else to discuss.