CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) — The Chincoteague Town Council has approved a resolution opposing offshore oil and gas drilling off the Virginia coast.
The audience broke out into applause after the council's vote Wednesday night, which was without opposition.
"This resolution, if we wanted to add more clauses, could have been five or six, 10 pages long, because of the impact this could have on Chincoteague," said Councilman Ben Ellis.
The resolution notes Chincoteague benefits economically from tourism and aquaculture, and also from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and it says the lease of drilling rights offshore "would occur in the very midst of the flight range for launches and have similar impacts on the Navy's use of our coastline for preparation for our nation's defense."
As of June 1, more than 200 municipalities on the East Coast and more than 1,200 local, state and federal elected officials and industry groups have formally opposed offshore drilling and seismic testing associated with offshore oil and gas exploration, the resolution states.
Ellis thanked Matt Heim for bringing the matter to the council's attention.
Heim is mid-Atlantic organizer for Oceana, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and revitalizing the world's oceans.
Oceana in June held a meeting on Chincoteague to discuss the perils of offshore drilling and associated seismic testing.
The federal government's proposed final, five-year offshore leasing program plan is expected to be released next fall, and a public comment period on the draft version closed in March, with no public meetings held on the Eastern Shore.
The Boards of Supervisors in both Eastern Shore of Virginia counties are among those that already have passed resolutions in opposition to offshore oil drilling.
Speaking about the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Ellis said, "That area on the coastline of Louisiana is still not fully recovered from that particular incident."
According to the federal government, since 2010 there have been 4,105 reported offshore fires, explosions, collisions and spills that have resulted in 13 deaths, Ellis said, citing an article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
"In 2017 alone, there were 10 offshore spills," he said.
Chincoteague could suffer negative effects if offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling is approved off the coast, Ellis said.
"It could be catastrophic, and particularly for a community such as Chincoteague, with its reliance on tourism and aquaculture. We could not survive eight years like the Louisiana coast has done," he said.
NASA, the Navy and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport all have come out in opposition to offshore drilling, Ellis told the council.
"It seems only reasonable that this community, this town council, would want to do the same thing," he said.
Councilwoman Denise Bowden noted that the Secretary of the Interior had exempted Florida from the current process.
"I would dare think that the reason that they were was because probably the representatives of the state of Florida, the governor and citizens and everything, I'm sure put a lot of pressure on him. And that's probably what we need to do with ours," she said.
Ellis noted both Virginia senators and Congressman Scott Taylor are opposed to offshore drilling off the Virginia coast.
"So we're not out there by ourselves," he said.
Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor was absent from the meeting.